politics

Peru’s New Leader Has a Mandate to Fix a Poisoned Political Climate

Updated on
  • Martin Vizcarra arrived from Canada to take office Friday
  • His predecessor quit after 20 months, faces corruption probe

Martin Vizcarra arrives at Lima airport on March 23.

Photographer: Cris Bouroncle/AFP via Getty Images

Martin Vizcarra assumed Peru’s highest office pledging to end the political confrontation that forced his predecessor to quit while maintaining economic stability and fighting corruption.

Martin Vizcarra speaks in Lima, on March 23.

Photographer: Angela Ponce/ Bloomberg

The 55-year-old engineer-turned-politician called for unity to recover governability and the trust of Peruvians, in a national address after being sworn in as president in Congress. He signaled he would appoint a new finance minister as part of an entirely new cabinet in the coming days.

His predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, clashed with the opposition-controlled Congress for much of his 20 months in power as he became ensnared in the Carwash bribery scandal. Kuczynski quit Wednesday amid allegations he sought to buy votes to avoid impeachment.

“We’re approaching our nation’s bicentenary in a context of instability and institutional turmoil,” Vizcarra said. “What’s happened must mark the end of a policy of hate and confrontation, which has only damaged the country.”

Vizcarra said Peru needs stability and credibility for economic growth and promised to promote private investment while redoubling efforts to rebuild areas devastated by last year’s floods.

His goal of resetting relations with the opposition was welcomed by Keiko Fujimori, whose Popular Force party dominates Congress. She said via Twitter she wished him success and called for unity among Peruvians.

Vizcarra was received in Congress with a standing ovation by lawmakers, a contrast with Kuczynski, who Popular Force refused to applaud when he was sworn in.

“Political noise is going to subside as Congress doesn’t have the strength or will to continue with this tension,” said Elmer Cuba, a partner at Lima-based Macroconsult. “They’ve said they will support Vizcarra. I’m very optimistic.”

A mild-mannered, former governor from the south of Peru, Vizcarra joined Kuczynski’s campaign as an adviser in 2015 and was elected first vice president in July 2016. He quit as transportation minister in May last year after a spat with lawmakers over an airport contract. Vizcarra donned the presidential sash less than 24 hours after returning from Canada where he had been serving as ambassador since October.

Rebuilding Trust

“We need to support Vizcarra for the sake of governability and we have to rebuild trust because the people demand it,” said Segundo Tapia, a lawmaker with Popular Force.

Peru’s sol currency climbed for a fifth straight day, its longest streak of gains since October, and stocks rose.

Governing party lawmaker Gilbert Violeta recommended that president includes in his new cabinet figures already approved by political parties to reduce the risk of confrontation between the legislative and executive branches.

“This obstructionism by Congress caused serious problems and didn’t allow governability over the last year and a half,” Violeta said by phone from Lima. “We have faith things will change. They have to.”

Cuba, who is also a central bank director, said that economic growth should accelerate each quarter this year. Peru has an autonomous central bank whose President Julio Velarde was appointed by Kuczynski to serve a five-year term.

Poisoned Atmosphere

Vizcarra’s honeymoon won’t last, given the “poisoned” politics, and early elections are the most likely scenario, Eileen Gavin, an analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in a note Thursday.

Vizcarra takes office with Peruvians dismayed by politics, and with good reason. His five predecessors as president are all under investigation for money laundering, corruption or human-rights abuses. One is in prison, one has just been released and Peru is seeking the extradition of another from the U.S. Prosecutors have requested an order barring Kuczynski from leaving country while he’s investigated.

Kuczynski, a 79-year-old Wall Street veteran and former finance minister, beat a first attempt at impeachment in December after the revelation that a firm he owned took money from Brazilian builder Odebrecht SA, which doled out hundreds of millions in bribes across the region. His escape was narrow enough to embolden opponents to make a second attempt. Allegations this week he sought to reward politicians in exchange for retaining power finished his career.

Still, lawmakers are also held in low regard, with an approval rating of 14 percent in an Ipsos survey this month. Hector Surichaqui, a 32-year-old Uber driver from Lima, said the president’s first act should be to dissolve Congress and call new parliamentary elections.

“We need new representatives who aren’t linked to all this corruption,” he said.

(Updates with Vizcarra taking office, addressing nation from first paragraph.)
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