The repeal of the Youth Employment Law constitutes a major, if not irreparable, political reverse for Humala who still has 18 months as president.
With the repeal of the so-called Ley Pulpín, President Humala seems to have successfully shot himself in both feet at the same time. He has managed to arouse enmity among a potentially powerful social movement of the young as well as alienating the business community for whom the Youth Employment Law (which had sought to deregulate the labour market under the guise of promoting employment) had been devised. And if that was not enough, he seems to have split his own party, forcing one of his most able lieutenants, Sergio Tejada, to resign the party whip.
In the event, the Ley Pulpín – pulpín is limeño slang for a youngster – was voted down by a colossal margin: 91 votes to 18 with five abstentions. Apart from Humala’s closest associates in the ruling PNP, congressmen from across the board turned up to the plenary session to dispatch a piece of legislation which most of them had enthusiastically voted for only a month before. Even those from Perú Posible, whose votes in support of the government have hitherto helped keep Humala’s legislative programme on track, decided to pull the plug on the Ley Pulpín.
The congressional vote was a piece of political theatre staged to stab Humala in the back. Enthusiastic neoliberals from across the range of opposition parties for whom ‘labour flexibilisation’ is usually a cri de coeur – Fujimoristas, Apristas, even people from the PPC and Peru Posible – all united to publicly to engage Humala in ritual humiliation. To add insult to injury, they also voted en masse to deny Humala permission to attend the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC) summit in Costa Rica.
And outside Congress, on the streets, thousands of young people – convinced that the Ley Pulpín did the opposite of what it said on the tin about promoting decent employment – congregated to celebrate a well-earned victory. It was the fifth such march in the last couple of months, brought forward at the last minute to January 26th thanks to wizardry of social media. Originally both the parliamentary debate and the march were supposed to take place on the 28th, but Humala summoned an extraordinary session of Congress two days earlier, presumably in order to wrongfoot the opposition.
Though supported by the heavy guns of the trade union movement, the youth movement has come of age in the last two months. The campaign to repeal the controversial law has spawned local organisation throughout the neighbourhoods of Lima, using social media to communicate and to help in staging impromptu meetings and demonstrations. Just as new formations on the left appear on the scene in Athens and Madrid, in Lima too a new movement seems to be alive, able and willing to stand up to the seemingly unyielding force of big business.
With still a year and a half left to go as president, Humala is left looking naked. Having alienated the people who elected him in 2011, he now seems to have failed those in Confiep who have managed to hi-jack the government’s agenda since then. His popularity – at around 25% — still has to plumb the depths achieved by former presidents Toledo and Alan García during their periods in government, but must surely now be on a downwards trajectory. Few will be convinced of his initial response, wrapping himself in the flag to celebrate the anniversary of Peru’s victory last year in The Hague.
And as the 2016 elections hover into view, Humala’s humiliation is manna from heaven for those keenest to replace him. None more so than Alan García who will now use Tejada’s departure finally to bury the accusations of corruptions against him and his 2006-11 government. The situation is reminiscent of the last year of Toledo’s government. Then García, with his eyes on the prize in 2006 and through his merciless attacks, left Toledo gently twisting in the wind. Humala looks like ending up suffering the same fate, with Garcia potentially the main beneficiary.