The 26 January congressional elections will come as a relief to President MartÍn Vizcarra. Gone is the fujimorista super-majority that made it so hard to push through legislation to reform the judicial and political systems. Instead is a pot pourri of parties none of which get anywhere near a majority on their own. By building congressional alliances, the government should be able to steer through its reforms even though Vizcarra does not have a specific party to back him up.
The new legislature will run until July 2021 when Vizcarra’s term in office comes to an end. The election was made necessary by the dissolution of the previous Congress last September.
Peru’s traditional parties took a mauling at the hands of the voters, most of them implicated in the receipt of corrupt funding over recent years. APRA, a party that dates from the 1920s and which played a central role in Peruvian politics for nearly 100 years, ended up with no representation in the new Congress. During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-11), who committed suicide last April rather than face arrest, the party became closely involved in corrupt payments by Odebrecht and other Brazilian construction firms.
Another party to be run out of town is the PPC (Partido Popular Cristiano) whose leader, Lourdes Flores, also appears to have received money from Odebrecht. Neither APRA nor the PPC won enough votes to pass the 5% threshold (valla) required to achieve representation in Congress.
Fuerza Popular (FP), the party founded by Keiko Fujimori and the last of a string of fujimorista parties, saw its representation greatly reduced. It had 73 seats, an absolute majority, in the Congress elected in 2016. Sunday’s results saw it reduced to 15 seats. It is, however, still one of the larger blocs in the new Congress, and it managed to hang on to the residual sympathy of voters especially in areas outside Lima.
The only traditional party to maintain itself was Acción Popular (AP), the right-of-centre party set up by Fernando Belaunde in the 1950s. It emerged as the largest party in the new Congress with 25 seats. AP has been relegated to the political margins since the late 1980s. For this reason, it managed to steer clear of the corrupt funding deals that other parties entered into. Jorge Muñoz was elected in 2018 when AP topped the polls.
After AP in terms of the number of seats won (22) was Alianza para el Progreso (APP). APP won only two seats in Lima; its strength is based almost entirely in areas outside the capital. It has based itself on a clientelistic network of private universities established by its leader César Acuña. Its politics are hard to define but could reasonably be described as centre right.
For the left, the results were disappointing. The split in the Frente Amplio (FA) shortly after the 2016 elections did nothing to enhance its standing. Of the two groupings that entered into these elections, the FA itself won nine seats, one less than its previous tally. Juntos por el Perú, the alliance into which Veronika Mendoza inscribed Nuevo Perú (the dissident fraction of FA), failed to reach the 5% valla.
The results were also disappointing for Julio Guzmán and his Partido Morado. It won nine seats, mainly in Lima. Guzmán had hoped the election would put his party at the forefront of the coming presidential campaign line-up for next year. He had travelled widely in his campaign to achieve party registration, achieving seemingly strong support across the country. In the event, he won only three seats outside Lima, his voting strength concentrated in middle-class districts of the capital.
The election results were a noteworthy validation of outsider parties and their leaders, all of which (in different ways) express profound public dissatisfaction with the way in which the country is run.
Among the most surprising results was the large vote for Frepap, the evangelical party set up in the late 1980s by messianic sect leader Ezequiel Ataucusi. It won 15 seats, five in Lima and ten in the rest of the country. The party has never won much by way of representation before, perhaps because many evangelical voters used to support the fujimorista parties. Like FP, Frepap is likely to pursue a conservative social agenda.
The large number of seats won (13 in all) by Unión por el Perú (UPP) also came as something of a shock. This party had been taken over by the supporters of Antauro Humala, jailed brother of former president Ollanta Humala. Antauro Humala is noteworthy for his role in the etnocacerista movement, a nationalist/racist grouping which appears to have mopped up support from many of those disillusioned voters in southern Peru who opted for Mendoza in 2016. He is the bete noire of the Peruvian political establishment and this show of support reflects deep political malaise among the poor. His new congressional supporters will be fighting for his release from prison.
Another surprising result was the success enjoyed by Daniel Urresti in Lima. His grouping, Podemos Perú, won more seats (eight) than any other party in Lima. Urresti, a former military officer accused of killing a journalist in Ayacucho in the 1980s, had been interior minister in Humala’s government. He is known as a hard liner on security issues. His campaign focused on low-income neighbourhoods in Lima where insecurity is endemic. In the past he has recommended the introduction of the death penalty to deal with crime.
The breakdown of seats in the new 130-member Congress is as follows:
Acción Popular 25
Alianza para el Progreso 22
Fuerza Popular 15
Unión por el Peru 13
Somos Perú 11
Podemos Peru 11
Partido Morado 9
Frente Amplio 9
Quite how these parties will collaborate (or not) with Vizcarra’s reform plans remains to be seen. However, AP along with APP, Somos Perú and the Partido Morado will probably be well disposed to support the government’s initiatives, although a formal alliance seems improbable. All the parties will be scrutinising the results for what they portend for the coming presidential election campaign. The first round will take place in April 2021.