With Keiko Fujimori in jail, Chávarry removed from his position as chief public prosecutor, Vizcarra triumphant in the referendum, and popular wrath over Fuerza Popular’s (FP) connections with corruption scandals, it has not been a happy New Year for Peru’s main opposition party FP.
Last week, following an attempt to censure the erstwhile Fujimorista president of Congress, Daniel Salaverry, FP saw a further exodus from its ranks. As of 10 January, its numbers in the 130-member Congress were down to 56. Not only has it lost its absolute majority (it remains the largest grouping in Congress) but other members appear to be considering their positions, readying themselves to jump ship. La República offers a timeline of FP desertions since 2016.
Keiko Fujimori lost an appeal for her release earlier this month. Her presence in jail means not only that she is unable to exercise her customary role of orchestrating FP from behind the scenes (her two main assistants are also behind bars), but acts as a huge damper on the moral authority of the party which swept the electoral board in the 2016 legislative elections.
Public revulsion at the links between FP, corruption in the judiciary, and organised crime in Callao explain the scale of President Martín Vizcarra’s victory in the December referendums on political and judicial reform. With between 75% and 80% of voters supporting constitutional reforms designed to curb corruption, this was a severe rebuff for the party that will surely suffer most from these changes.
Then, finally, following months of resistance, Pedro Gonzalo Chávarry finally acceded last week to pressures on him to relinquish the post of Fiscal de la Nación. This opens the way for further facts to emerge from the Lava Jato investigations which could spell more problems for both Fujimori and her political ally, Alan García. Although the plea bargaining with Odebrecht has undergone delays, it should yield new information in the coming weeks.
For FP, the separation of Salaverry from its ranks came as a crucial blow, given his importance in organising and orchestrating business in Congress. Congress remains, of course, FP’s last line of defence. It is up to Congress to legislate the reforms approved in the referendum, but the loss of the FP’s parliamentary majority means that its ability to obstruct government legislation is now much reduced.
A sign of this was FP’s decision to withdraw a motion of censure on 10 January against Salaverry. Although it dressed this up as a conciliatory and patriotic gesture at a moment of crisis, the reality was that party leaders realised they no longer had the numbers to get rid of someone they considered a traitor to the cause.
Where does FP go from here? The indications are that the rush to the exit will become cumulative, particularly absent the system of firm discipline exercised by Keiko Fujimori and her close cohorts. This will lead to the further fragmentation of an already highly fragmented political system in which political parties count for little.
This may, of course, make life easier for Vizcarra who lacks a political party to back him up in Congress. But he still faces another two-and-a-half years in office, and as past experience has repeatedly shown, what goes up can easily go down (even faster) when it comes to political popularity.