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In Peru, an Opportunity to Start Fresh

Following months of political crisis and scandals, Peruvians will elect a new President, two Vice-Presidents, 130 members of Congress and five representatives to the regional Andean Parliament on April 11.

On November 10, Peru’s Congress voted to impeach President Martín Vizcarra on charges of corruption. Peruvians, who were supportive of Vizcarra and his anti-corruption agenda, but furious at the government response to COVID-19, the congressional gridlock, and what many saw as a politically-charged impeachment process, clashed with security forces in the days that followed. Young Peruvians, many of them frustrated with congressional dysfunction and corruption, demanded political change during the protests that ensued.

Instead, a new corruption scandal emerged. In February, local media outlets reported that hundreds of elected officials secretly participated in Peru’s October vaccine trials – a move that was perceived as the political class leveraging their status for personal gain. Ultimately, the “Vacuna-gate” scandal breathed new life into the public’s discontent as the country rounded the corner to the April elections.

These upcoming elections present a critical crossroads for Peru, one that can either dissipate political tensions and promote responsive governance or further divide citizens and their elected officials. To preserve Peru’s democracy, the new Congress and President will have three major issues to tackle:

Breaking Political Deadlock

Lack of political party cohesion, a disconnect between the legislative and executive branches, and an unwillingness to build coalitions within Congress has prevented the current government from responding to the needs of Peruvians. The power struggle between the executive and legislative branches has contributed to the ousting of three presidents and the dissolution of Congress in one constitutional term, evidencing the fragility and dysfunction of these two government branches. Amidst recent political crises, the pandemic has degraded Peru’s socio-economic progress, hampering education, economic opportunity and public health. Peru remains in a state of emergency following a recent surge of COVID-19 cases, leaving ICUs overwhelmed in January 2021 and recording the highest single-day count of pandemic-related deaths. While Peru has steadily increased its vaccination rate, the incoming government must bridge internal divides to contain the pandemic and revive Peru’s waning economy.

Tackling Corruption

During his term, Vizcarra announced an ambitious anti-corruption agenda that garnered him public support. Due to his lack of political allies in Congress, however, the plan drove his presidency into a confrontation with legislators. Many members of Congress pushed back against his transparency agenda, which included a measure to eliminate parliamentary immunity. While political figures have vocalized support for anti-corruption efforts, few have pursued tangible policy changes to improve government transparency and accountability. Political support to counter corruption following Vizcarra’s impeachment rang hollow with the 'Vacuna-gate' scandal which revealed that 487 senior government officials, including Vizcarra, and representatives of the private sector received the vaccine before at-risk citizens. This scandal broke on the heels of a renewed COVID-19 lockdown across Peru, a stark reminder of the tangible consequences of political corruption. Incoming officials should champion anti-corruption efforts during this legislative session to demonstrate their commitment to responsive, transparent governance.

Rebuild Citizen Trust

Incoming officials face the task of rebuilding trust between the public and government amidst the fallout of consecutive scandals and the ongoing pandemic. Youth, who have come to be known as the Bicentennial Generation, were at the forefront of the November protests that took hold of the nation, vowing to keep protesting “until the country’s leaders agreed to real change”. They will play a critical role in the general elections as nearly seven million voters are under 30, representing roughly 29 percent of Peru’s voting population. Recent polls show no clear leader among the 18 candidates in Peru’s presidential race, reflecting a lack of unifying political figures or platforms. With the elections nearing, roughly one third of eligible Peruvians remain undecided on their vote. Citizens have vocalized their discontent with Peru’s political status quo – they are eager to engage with a new cohort of politicians focused on addressing Peru’s issues rather than continuing legislative squabbles. Amidst these conditions, it is crucial for new officials to engage in transparent outreach with their constituents and rebuild public trust in Peru’s democracy.

Recent protests and the upcoming elections offer Peru’s government an opportunity to start fresh. Due to a constitutional reform enacted in 2019, it is likely that the 2021-2026 legislature will be divided among several political parties comprised of mostly first-time members. This split Congress and a new President will have to engage Peru’s youth, who are eager to see change from their new representatives. It is critical that these new officials are prepared to launch meaningful legislative dialogues that promote public trust in Peru’s democratic institutions and address the country’s socioeconomic ails. If they succeed in doing so, brighter days are ahead for the people of Peru.