Rot in the party system
28 April 2018
The demand for political reform in Peru can only get louder. President Martín Vizcarra last week announced that he intends to make institutional reforms that would weaken the grip of the Fujimorista majority in the Congress, possibly by reintroducing a second chamber and getting rid of an electoral system that allows disproportionate representation for Fuerza Popular (FP).
But no sooner had he made this announcement than there were howls of protest from leading Fujimoristas; Vizcarra subsequently announced that reforms would only be for the “medium-to-long term”. FP does not seem inclined to reform the system by which it achieved an absolute parliamentary majority in 2016.
New information also emerged last week as to the ways in which several Fujimoristas bent the electoral rules in 2016 by lying in the CVs they gave to the electoral authorities. At least seven members of FP now appear to have been guilty of this whilst effectively protected from any consequences by the fact that they themselves enjoy parliamentary immunity and, moreover, FP has an iron grip over the parliamentary ethics committee. Other information has emerged in recent weeks linking some Fujimorista members of Congress to drugs trafficking cartels.
What emerges from all this is the way in which FP sought to choose its congressional candidates simply by virtue of the amount of money they were prepared to contribute to the party war chest, not because they were previously party members or felt much by way of ideological identity with fujimorismo. How they came by that wealth is, of course, another question.
As David Sulmont from the Universidad Católica has pointed out, this way of selecting candidates could only prevail in a country in which meaningful political parties have long ceased to exist. “There is no selection procedure based on recognition by local [party] committees or militants because such militancy does not exist (...) Here we have organisations run by local political bosses (caudillos) who decide whom to incorporate on the basis of the resources they can contribute to the campaign”.
The need for illegal mafias to gain influence within the state (whether at national or sub-national level) in order to pursue their activities unhindered is well known, and recent elections seem to show that the problem is an increasing one. It is particularly in evidence in parts of the country, like Madre de Dios, where state controls are weak and where illegal mining is king.
Vizcarra’s reluctance to give political reform the priority it deserves may indicate that he is already in hock to the Fujimoristas. But without reform, the present institutional set-up will confront ever-growing hostility on the part of ordinary voters who see their interests ignored as illegal local interests suborn dishonest politicians. He (or she) who pays the piper calls the tune.