It has been a dramatic five years in Peru since the last presidential election.
A series of standoffs between the executive and legislative branches have seen one dissolution of Congress and three attempts at impeachment of the president. Two former presidents have been arrested for their involvement in the Odebrecht corruption scandal, and a third committed suicide moments before the police arrived to arrest him. Keiko Fujimori, the opposition leader and two-time presidential runner-up, was arrested for corruption, released, and is now running for president once more.
This turbulence came to a head last October, when Peru was engulfed in its biggest political crisis in a generation. Martín Vizcarra, the former president who had served for two and a half years since Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned in 2018 in the face of a vote-buying scandal, was himself impeached by Congress following credible but unproven allegations that he had accepted bribes earlier in his career. Congress appointed Manuel Merino, the president of the Congress who spearheaded the campaign to impeach Vizcarra, as interim president. Peruvians, outraged at the abrupt removal of a president who enjoyed considerable public support for his commitment to anticorruption reform, took to the streets to protest. They were met with police violence, and two young Peruvians were killed. Merino relented, resigning the presidency after a five-day tenure, and Congress appointed Francisco Sagasti – a moderate who had voted against impeaching Vizcarra – to serve out the final months of the term until the April 11 election.
The magnitude of the public’s mobilization against Merino’s interim presidency was seen by many observers (myself included) as a decisive turning point in the Peruvian people’s willingness to tolerate a corrupt political class. The country’s public health and economy have been ravaged by Covid-19. If there were a perfect moment for a meaningful anticorruption movement to sweep from the bottom to the top – for Peruvian voters to have a sort of “day of reckoning” with systemic corruption – April 11 seemed like that moment.
But now, on the eve of the election, this reckoning looks doubtful to arrive.Continue reading