Sunday’s legislative elections are likely to lead to a new Congress in which many parties are represented and in which, unlike its predecessor, no one party exercises an absolute majority. This will make life easier for President Martín Vizcarra between now and the end of his term in July 2021. The results will also provide pointers as to who will come after him.
Peruvian politics since the 2016 elections have been dominated by the veto power of Fuerza Popular (FP), the right-wing party which won 73 seats in the 130-seat unicameral legislature. The narrow defeat of its founder and leader Keiko Fujimori in the race for the presidency in 2016 led to a permanent collision between the executive and legislature, first under Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and then under Vizcarra, a conflict that pushed constitutional stability to the limit.
The dissolution of Congress on 30 September last year and the calling of fresh legislative elections finally broke this constitutional gridlock in Vizcarra’s favour. Whatever the results of the election, the fujimoristas are unlikely to win the number of seats they had in the previous parliament, either as FP or in standing as candidates for other right-wing parties like Solidaridad Nacional.
Opinion polls suggest that the most likely outcome will be a majority for centrist and centre-right parties with which Vizcarra can establish an understanding. This means that the next 18 months may prove to be somewhat less tumultuous than the period since 2016. Quite what it will mean in policy and legislative terms is hard to predict, but it could lead Vizcarra into a shift to the right.
The government will wish to push ahead with its attempts to root out corruption from public life. This is a mammoth task. The Odebrecht and other scandals have shown just how deeply the Peruvian state apparatus is riddled with corrupt influences. Nowhere is this clearer than in the judicial branch where the clean-up is most pressing but, at the same time, most bitterly resisted.
A loss of legislative power by the fujimoristas can only facilitate the anti-corruption drive by the removal of the previously powerfully entrenched obstacles in its path. But it will not, on its own, resolve the problem. The battle will go on.
Sunday’s vote may also provide useful clues as to who may come to the fore in the 2021 general elections which, as usual, will involve simultaneous voting for the presidency as well as Congress. The likely date for the election, at least the first round, will be in April 2021, just 15 months away.
The period between now and then will be dominated by electioneering, particularly as the date of elections draws closer. Parties which emerge this Sunday with a solid representation in Congress will look to ways to use their position to maximise their chances in 2021.
Next week we may have a clearer idea of who those contenders will be.