Presidential popularity surge, but for how long?

15 June 2019

Lacking a political party to back him up, President Martín Vizcarra’s political muscle in dealing with a recalcitrant Congress is his personal popularity. And there is no doubt that a confrontational stance towards Congress, or at least its fujiaprista majority, wins him ‘brownie’ points. The latest Datum survey, the first published so far this month, shows his popularity to have increased to 58%, 13 percentage points over his showing a month ago. 

The Peruvian public evidently wants to see political reform; it probably would like to see the executive insist on the dissolution of Congress and the convening of fresh elections. The mood is evidently one of ‘que se vayan todos’ (loosely translatable as ‘get rid of the lot of them’).

Vizcarra’s popularity increase is reminiscent of last year when, following his speech to the nation on 28 July, he announced the holding of a referendum on political and judicial reforms, a direct appeal to the voters over and above the heads of Peru’s 130 members of Congress. As the anniversary of this approaches, the attractions of dissolution must seem obvious.

However, whether Vizcarra will pull the trigger is very much a matter of doubt. The fujiapristas in Congress sense that he will refrain from doing so. For that reason, they are being deliberately provocative. A full-blown constitutional crisis would mean a step into the unknown, and that represents political risks for the president. Vizcarra’s opponents have already rehearsed the narrative of labelling him an ‘autocrat’ or ‘dictator’.

First, the Congress has shown its will to continue shielding the former chief public prosecutor, Pedro Chávarry, from the judicial charges against him. As we said two weeks ago, it was its stance towards Chávarry that finally pushed the government into demanding a vote of confidence in parliament, even though lifting the protection of Chávarry was not one of the conditions linked to the confidence vote.

Secondly, over the last week, the constitutional commission, chaired by the arch-fujimorista Rosa Bartra, has been trying to unpick the executive’s five political reforms whose passage was a condition for the confidence vote. Who actually decides whether the changes being made at the insistence of the committee represent a violation of the confidence vote remains unclear.

Bartra and her friends appear to want to push the contradictions to the limit.

The political cost of letting them appear to get the better of him also represents dangers for Vizcarra. His latest popularity surge may prove very transient if he backs down. He thus faces some awkward decisions in the next few weeks.

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