Vizcarra may win the battle, but will he win the war?

1 December 2018

In some cases, referendums do not produce the answers that those promoting them want to hear; not so, it would seem, the 9 December referendums in Peru. The results promise to be a widespread rejection of the political class as a whole, and Congress in particular, providing a major political victory for President Martín Vizcarra.

In announcing the referendum last July, Vizcarra cannily latched on to public opinion, using it to pursue his (somewhat belated) decision to take the battle to the Fujimoristas on the Fuerza Popular (FP) benches in Congress and their allies in APRA.

Subsequent events have shown his decision to have been a more successful gamble than he could possibly have foreseen: Keiko Fujimori is now in jail, Alan García is holed up in the Uruguayan embassy (see below) and Fuerza Popular appears to be close to the point of disintegration.

Public opinion is massively arrayed against the current Congress, with the image of its Fujimorista majority thoroughly tainted by scandals of corruption and political skulduggery. According to the latest polls, more than 80% of respondents declare their lack of any faith in the legislature as currently constituted.

The questions to be put to the people on 9 December are: (i) reform of the methods by which judges are appointed and dismissed; (ii) new, stricter laws governing party funding; (iii) prohibition of the immediate re-election of members of Congress, and (iv) the reintroduction of a bicameral system in Congress with the restoration of the Senate (abolished in 1992).

It seems a fair bet that there will be a clear majority for the first three. The fourth now seems in doubt. This is because Vizcarra has changed his mind on this, following the attempt of the FP majority to enable re-election to be achieved by candidates hopping alternatively between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

Whether or not the referendum will make a major contribution to the workings of Peruvian democracy is another matter. The real problem is the lack of a system of representation by which people can feel their interests are taken into account in making government decisions. Until ordinary voters feel that they are adequately represented, they will continue to feel alienated by the political system.

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