Parliamentary elections were held in Peru on January 26th, 2020 after President Martín Vizcarra dissolved the congress due to what he perceived as a stonewalling of his anti-corruption initiative by the opposition party, Popular Force (BBC). The special election resulted in many various centrist parties gaining seats in parliament as Popular Force went from occupying 36.3% of seats to just 7%. Analysts agree that this election may give President Vizcarra an avenue to pass his anti-corruption measures through congress, something that is very important to the people of Peru as corruption is rampant in all three branches of their government (BBC). However, This chain of events was far from certain in the fall of 2019. When President Vizcarra dissolved congress the body responded with a coup, suspending the sitting president and swearing into power Mercedes Aráoz. This lead to conflict as both Aráoz and Vizcarra claimed to be the rightful executive leader of Peru. The issue went to the top court in Peru where they ruled that the dismissal of Congress was constitutional under Article 134 in the Peruvian constitution according to the Washington Post. This set the scene for the parliamentary election on January 26th to be held, which was a popular outcome among the general public in Peru.
For some background on Peruvian politics, Peru elects its government officials through a proportional representative system which is why Peru has over 30 viable parties capable of gaining seats in any given election. Under normal circumstances, Peru elects a new President as well as a congress every 5 years. The president is decided by a first round of voting followed by a run-off of the top two vote-getters. The main concern for most Peruvians is the wave of corruption that is sweeping the nation. According to the BBC, the last four presidents before President Vizcarra have been linked to corruption with 2 incarcerated, one accused, and one, former President Alan García, commenting suicide when police arrived to arrest him. However, corruption is not just limited to the executive branch. In 2018 5 officials resigned included the Chief Justice of the Peruvian High Court over accusations of accepting bribes for lenient sentencing. Some of the cases that were secretly recorded exposed court members discussing such awful crimes such as the rape of an 11-year-old with rhetoric like, “What is it they want, to get the sentence lowered or to be declared innocent?” (Washington Post). This leads to a critical issue for Peru which is the extreme presence of violence against women and girls. Domestic abuse of women remains a systemic problem in Peru and with women holding only 28% of seats as 2019, it is very difficult to pass legislation and appoint justices to address the issue. The most vulnerable demographic of the population is the indigenous population as well as Afro-Latinos. According to Freedom House, Indigenous peoples are at a high risk of being exploited by sex traffickers and children are subject to forced labor in mines. This is not independent of the government as in 2018 former police chief Raúl Becerra was arrested for operating a baby-trafficking operation wherein children were sold into illegal adoption or organ trafficking.
Despite these egregious human rights violations, Peru’s election has been free and fair over the past decade. There is little to no fear of violence on election day and political organization is not suppressed by the government (Freedom House). Under Vizcarra, the future may be brightening for Peru as most of the problems they face are the result of a corrupt system of political financing. However, even with the newly elected congress countering this systemic problem will be no small task. One of the main sources of corrupt money in the country comes from large corporations such as Odebecht, a large Brazilian based construction company that has given out bribes before such as over 20 million dollars to former president Alejandro Toledo. In fact, all four of the presidents I mentioned earlier who was accused and convicted of taking bribes all took money from Odebecht. Taking on powerful cooperations such as this one will be hard enough given that all of their progress could potentially be reversed in the 2021 general election. It is a hard political game to play with elected officials needing to decide whether to take extreme anti-corruption measures or to try to fund their campaigns knowing that companies like Odesbecht will be putting money into their opposition’s pockets at increased rates as their power feels more threatened.
The recent events in Peru do spark an interesting conversation about executive power as even sources such as Freedom House assert that the 2016 election that gave Popular Force its majority in parliament was a free and fair election. Elected officials in the Popular Force party called President Vizcarra a dictator and claimed he had no respect for the balance of power after his dismissal of Congress. However, proponents of Vizzcara’s decision point to the overwhelming majority of Peruvians, 85%, who were in favor of the dissolution of congress. It could be argued that Vizcarra’s authoritarian decision, which was in this case, upholding the will of the people, was a show of respecting a democratic principle. In this case, Vizcarra sided with the people, but it is too early to tell if he is truly devoted to the cause of anti-corruption, or if he will be the latest in the line of Peruvian presidents accused of taking illegal bribes from major cooperations.
“Peru.” Peru | Freedom House, 31 May 2019, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2019/peru.
Ferrari, Ignazio De, et al. “The Dissolution of Congress and the Future of Peru’s Democracy.” IPI Global Observatory, 5 Nov. 2019, theglobalobservatory.org/2019/11/dissolution-congress-and-future-of-perus-democracy/.
“Peru’s Top Court Says Dissolution of Parliament Was Legal.” BBC News, BBC, 15 Jan. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51120825.
“Peru Election: Crushing Blow for President’s Opponents Popular Force.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Jan. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51208274.
“Peru’s President Closes Congress and Calls for Elections.” YouTube, France 24 English, 1 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hIPLFNymiU.
Tan, Rebecca. “Leaked Calls Reveal Systemic Corruption in Peru’s Judiciary, Sparking Flurry of Resignations.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 July 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/07/20/leaked-calls-reveal-systemic-corruption-in-perus-judiciary-sparking-flurry-of-resignations/.