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Peru: The end of Fujimori’s executive privilege?

Peru is in the second round, after Pedro Castillo obtained 19% in the first round and Keiko Fujimori 13%. High absenteeism in Lima, especially in middle-class areas, marked a day where the big surprise was the emergence of school teacher Pedro Castillo, who led a teachers’ strike in 2017. It is clear that while almost 20% of the country sees him as a bringer of change, the other 80% failed to agree. This electoral result serves as evidence for a crisis of representation that the country is experiencing more than 20 years after the political reforms that transformed it.

The causes

Mark Lilla, American author of Regreso Liberal, points out that in politics there is executive privilege. Just as in the United States Reagan initiated the neoliberal executive privilege, in Peru it could be said that Alberto Fujimori initiated a sort of authoritarian version of this political and economic trend. The Peruvian version was marked by a pragmatism that, although it was able to contain and channel some problems and social movements, strengthening economic aspects, it had as a counterpart a deep erosion of the political and party system.

In Fujimori’s case, the pragmatic liberalism with which he decided and settled his privilege, led him to definitively destroy a system that, although not perfect, still made some sense. He thus eliminated the bicameralism, which filtered the lower representative chamber with people of greater experience, bought, with the help of his advisor Vladimiro Montesinos, the editorial lines of the media, and established the idea that political parties were all style but no substance and without the necessary instruments to govern. He also blamed the parties for the emergence of terrorism.

By shutting down Congress and creating a new constitution, Fujimori was able to tailor a country to his needs, which required rule by an autocratic president, with advisors and operators in the shadows, rigged elections. The anti-establishment narrative deeply penetrated the voters who left party activity, because as Margaret Thatcher mentioned “There is no alternative.” Fujimori considered “traditional politicians” to be ineffective and that he was the only alternative.

The consequences

After Fujimori, Alejandro Toledo, Alan García in a second term, Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski went through the same constitution. Created in 1993, it had the advantage of affirming the free market, which certainly allowed the country to maintain a certain fiscal rigor and to grow in a reasonable manner, although with the shortcomings of an unfinished and low quality state apparatus.

As a backdrop, none of these presidents addressed the crisis of representation because they tacitly assumed that there was no alternative. As a result, today Peruvians arrive at these elections with representatives who have no agenda or roots, and who lead parties that they rent for the election.

Meanwhile, the hidden forces–although not so much–such as drug trafficking, illegal mining and political operators, nowadays turned into the agents of these interests, swarm in the concealed political party offices, which are wombs for rent. They manage routes so that the hidden money, a product of corruption such as the Lava Jato case, or drug trafficking, can continue perpetuating their interests. Meanwhile, the citizenry remains without representation that structures its interests in favor of middle class development and real modernization of the country.

As if that were not enough, the model of government deepened its crisis with a Congress that discovered that it could remove presidents under the vague basis of “moral incapacity,” stipulated by the 1993 Constitution. This allowed Peru to have four presidents between 2018 and 2021: Kuczynski, Martin Vizcarra, who was Kuczynski’s vice-president, Manuel Merino, who would like to assume on behalf of Congress, constitutionally but without popular legitimacy, and Francisco Sagasti, a moderate technocrat without corruption scandals, who currently governs on a sort of autopilot.

Future scenarios

Whether Castillo or Fujimori wins, Peru faces the real possibility that any president could be removed from office at any time after a brief lobbying by shadowy operators linked to Fujimorismo, Aprismo and drug trafficking. And in this framework, the citizenry’s weariness may lead it to accept a new authoritarian caudillo who, as political scientist Steven Levitsky points out, makes use of the mechanisms of democracy, in a limited way, to govern–in form–a country that prefers authoritarianism to democracy in the absence of a clear alternative.

Although Peru seems to be showing signs that the political cycle is coming to an end, since Fujimori resigned by fax from Japan, the country has lived in democracy. However, the facts indicate that this democratic continuity will not be maintained if the parties with national representation, which until now have been the only alternative for governing a State, are not reorganized again. There is a need for political organizations with good bases at the regional level, with legitimacy beyond money and that allow to have an effective management of Peru’s national territory.

Pedro Castillo is precisely the one who had this type of organization. Thanks to the party apparatus of the National Committee for the Reorientation of SUTEP (CONARE), a splinter faction of the Single Union of Education Workers of Peru – SUTEP, Castillo has been able to articulate a platform at the national level around a statist and rural vindicationist agenda. This conflation between the rural and the urban is evidence of the deep fragmentation faced by the Andean nation. Additionally, the founder of Castillo’s party, Vladimir Cerron, who has been prosecuted for corruption after being regional governor, has stated numerous times that Venezuela seems to be an example and a democracy to him, a comment that has generated reasonable alarm.

Regardless of who the next president is, it is clear that if the party organization is not re-established as a norm of political action, we will soon have another authoritarian caudillo. Let us not forget that during Manuel Merino’s failed attempt to assume power last year, the police fired marbles and buckshot at the population in a totally disproportionate manner, resulting in the death of two people. This speaks of profoundly authoritarian traits that can give rise to even more dangerous leadership.

*Translation from Spanish by Marika Olijar

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Graduated in Comunication for Development from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. MBA from the Pacífico Business School. He has worked as a consultant in various government institutions, in communication agencies and non-profit organizations.


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