2 August 2015
There was a time when Fiestas Patrias, the anniversary of Peru’s independence from Spain, was a moment for political fire-crackers. Not so this time, or for that matter in any of the annual set-piece State of the Union speeches by President Ollanta Humala since 2011. Given his rock-bottom approval ratings, you might think that 28 July would have been a good moment to launch some initiatives for the next twelve months, his last in office. But Humala’s speech to Congress was, as one commentator put it, just a “laundry list” of past achievements, boringly presented and highly selective in what it included and did not.
The past few weeks have not been a good time for Humala or the first lady, Nadine Heredia. There has been endless (unfavourable) comment in the media about supposed corruption on Nadine’s part, corruption which she angrily denies. In mid-July, one opinion poll put Humala’s popularity as low as 10%. Then, two days before 28 July, the majority of members of Congress voted for Luis Iberico to become president of Congress for the next year, the first opposition figure to occupy this post since Humala became president (http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/news-article-893.html). Not only did Humala’s Gana Peru fail to put up a candidate for the post but the surprising size of Iberico’s majority suggested that even members of the coalition had voted for him as opposed to Vicente Zeballos, officially its favoured candidate. The ruling party, it seemed, was falling apart.
Indeed the tone of Humala’s speech sounded decidedly valedictory, although there is still a full year to go before his presidency actually ends. Perhaps the reason for not saying much in his speech – or taking other active measures like reshuffling his cabinet – is the recognition that not much will be achieved over the forthcoming year. It will be a government hoping to exit on the best possible terms before relinquishing to another. Humala may have felt that it was not the time to make promises that he would probably be unable to fulfil. Opinion surveys suggest that much of the public antipathy to his government has been underscored by disquiet about how few of the promises on which he was elected have been kept.
The economic situation facing Peru this year also provides little comfort for the outgoing government. The triumphalism that has repeatedly accompanied statements from the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) appears increasingly at odds with reality (http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/news-article-900.html). The latest GDP figures (May 2015 over May 2014) suggests that growth was down to just over 1%. The economic ‘paquete’ promised by the government (and authorised by the Congress) will do little to boost growth at a time when commodity prices sink ever lower, investors are loath to invest, and when likely dollar interest rate rises make the attractions of developing countries like Peru ever less attractive.
Therefore the government’s strategy, it would seem, is to hunker down, hope that the next year is not too politically stormy, and let the elections deflect public attention away from its shortcomings towards the merits (or otherwise) of those standing for office. The problem may be that new storms will blow up, not least over extractive industries, and that the government will dither and defer, lacking the power or willingness to resolve and preferring to bequeath them to whoever becomes Peru’s next head of state. Issues relating to social and environmental conflicts were “conspicuous by their absence” in Humala’s speech, to quote José de Echave the former vice-minister of the environment.