Keiko and Vizcarra: storm clouds on the horizon?

24 June 2018

Lacking a political party to back him up in Congress, President Martin Vizcarra , who is approaching his first 100 days in office, was always going to have to seek allies. His government was never likely to be able to assert itself and establish autonomy.

The parliamentary logic meant that, from the outset, he would enter into some sort of understanding with the Fujimorista Fuerza Popular (FP) with its large majority in Congress. The government’s initial moves seemed to confirm this hypothesis. The trench warfare that came to characterise relations between the leaders of FP and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski gave way to an armistice. The artillery suddenly fell silent. Political analysts debated whether this constituted a truce, an understanding, or even an alliance.

What was clear was that Keiko Fujimori emerged strengthened. It was she who was best-placed to dictate the rules going forward, and it was she, not Vizcarra, who would decide how long the armistice would hold. Her position has been subsequently strengthened by the suspension of her brother, Kenji, and some of his followers from Congress, and their (temporary?) replacement by figures loyal to herself. The threat of an open split in FP has diminished.

Perhaps stung by criticism that he lacked authority, Vizcarra has taken steps in the last couple of weeks that involved crossing swords with FP.

One issue was the question of regulation of financial cooperatives. Prominent Fujimoristas opposed the suggestion that these should be subject to regulation by the Superintendency of Banks and Insurance (SBS). The cooperatives were widely believed to be ducts for drug-related money laundering, and the OECD (which the government desperately wants Peru to join) has made it clear that it insists on tougher regulation.

The second issue was the so-called ‘Gagging Law’ (Ley Mordaza), first mooted by APRA’s Mauricio Mulder, that would prevent the public sector from placing advertising or publicity in the privately-owned media. This has been widely seen as designed to browbeat the press which has tended to be critical of FP and its leadership. As we saw last week, Vizcarra came out with a strongly-worded statement criticising the Ley Mordaza. On 21 June, the government presented its case to the Constitutional Court arguing that the law infringed constitutional guarantees to a free press. 

There are signs that the Fujimori camp is not prepared to take these challenges lying down. On 20 June, Keiko, personally, made a statement in which she declared that Vizcarra was being poorly advised. She argued that Vizcarra’s use of the term ‘Ley Mordaza’ was inappropriate and that the law did not constitute any threat to press freedoms. 

Keiko and FP are bound to turn their guns on Vizcarra sooner or later, but the timing is unclear. At the moment it seems that FP does not wish to be seen destabilising the new administration. A key determinant, however, will be the speed at which Vizcarra’s popularity declines. If past history is any guide, this is likely to be swift. The most recent opinion polls confirm a downward trend.

Keiko’s strategy is to prepare the ground for the next presidential elections, and she is determined that the outcome will be different than in the last two contests, in both of which she lost by a whisker. When public opinion goes against Vizcarra, she will be ready to take full advantage of his weakness.

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