There is no doubting who has emerged the major winner of last week’s referendums: President Martín Vizcarra. His popularity, as measured by two polls (GfK and IEP), rose four points over November to 61% in December in the latest polls to be published.

The losers are the opposition parties (Fuerza Popular and APRA) whose leaderships now seem so compromised by allegations of corruption and cover-up.

Following the referendums on political and judicial reform, Vizcarra announced the importance of speedy congressional implementation of the various proposals approved. He urged members of Congress “to read carefully the message from the people” with respect to curbing corruption, regulating the funding of political parties and ending the re-election of their number.

As we reported last week, the great majority of voters adhered to the official line in supporting three of the four proposals and voting down the fourth (relating to re-establishing a second chamber).

In a televised press conference on 12 December, three days after the referendums, Vizcarra made clear that the executive already had the text of a law to establish the Junta Nacional de Justicia (JNJ), the new institution that will replace the discredited Consejo Nacional de la Magistratura (CNM). He said he wanted the Congress to approve this without delay, so that the JNJ is up and running early in January.

On the second referendum proposal, the introduction of tighter controls over party funding, he rounded on a bill passed by Congress days before the referendum, which would reduce the penalties for those found guilty of using money laundering of illicit funds to finance electoral activities. He said that he will refuse to promulgate the bill.

Referring to the approval of no re-election of congressmen, Vizcarra said that “some eternal members of Congress had forgotten the main purpose of their work, giving precedence to their own personal interests over those of Peru” and that “their permanence was no guarantee” of their good performance as legislators.
Referring to the fourth proposal to re-introduce a bicameral system, Vizcarra argued that the rejection of this reflected the public’s distaste for a clause introduced in the enabling legislation by Congress that would limit the executive’s powers to dissolve Congress.

The coming days and weeks will show whether the Congress, with its Fujimorista majority, has heeded the message of the referendum and will collaborate henceforth in enacting the government’s reform agenda, or whether it will resist. An acid test will be its response to the government’s proposal to modify the parliamentary privilege of immunity from prosecution.

The parliamentary mathematics remain unchanged, with the Fujimorista Fuerza Popular (FP), supported by APRA members, still commanding a large majority of seats in Congress. Unless for some reason Congress is dissolved, or the parties split irrevocably, that majority will remain for the next two-and-a-half years