After this assessment was penned, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned March 21 over allegations he bribed opposition lawmakers to support him during an upcoming impeachment vote. His resignation produces the same outcome that impeachment would have.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has gone from the frying pan to the fire. Just three months ago, Peru's embattled president survived impeachment proceedings over allegedly illegal payments, and now his legislative foes are circling again in a bid to unseat him in a March 22 session. But regardless of the short-term political fallout surrounding Kuczynski, instability is unlikely to blight Peru in the long term: Even if the president is impeached, the economic road ahead for the world's second-largest copper producer appears smooth — a few short-term bumps notwithstanding.
Peru is a key Latin American copper exporter and a member of the Pacific Alliance, a trading bloc friendly to foreign investment and free trade. Despite impending impeachment proceedings against the president, Peru's political scene is quite stable overall, and no political group is likely to emerge to threaten the country's political or economic stability.
The Bell Tolls for Kuczynski
The opposition Popular Force is again leading the charge against Kuczynski, having previously failed to dislodge him in a December 2017 impeachment vote. This time, the president is facing accusations that he failed to report consulting payments received from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht before entering office.
If two-thirds of the 130-member Congress vote to impeach Kuczynski in the March 22 session (lawmakers could debate and approve the proceedings on the same day), a weak government under Vice President Martin Vizcarra would assume the reins of power until elections in 2021.
But even if Kuczynski's foes succeed in ousting him, the direct political effects of the impeachment on Peru will be temporary. Compared to other countries' leaders, Peruvian presidents are exceptionally weak. Congress is unicameral and parties coalesce around individual presidential candidates whose popularity (and share of Congress) declines throughout their careers. As in neighboring Brazil, their ability to remain in power relies on their deftness at managing a divided Congress in which their party is likely to form a minority in the legislature. In such a system, it is difficult for any single party or bloc to gain a congressional majority, even if its leader is popular enough to capture the presidency. Accordingly, Peru's divided political scene severely complicates a party's ability to simultaneously control both the legislature and the presidency — unlike neighboring countries in which populist leaders can rapidly gain momentum in Congress.
Strength in Division
The fragmented political scene that enabled Kuczynski's impeachment will be the main reason for Peru's stability in the long run. Aside from the immediate ramifications and recriminations of Kuczynski's possible impeachment, Peru is an unlikely place for a populist challenger to emerge against an existing political order; the deep political divisions effectively negate the possibility of a swing away from the country's overwhelmingly centrist politics over the next decade. Peru's poverty makes it fertile ground for populism, but the sheer number of parties in the system espousing divergent political views will blunt the intentions of any leader seeking to upset the apple cart.
The absence of an effective political left in the country also eliminates another potential source of change to the status quo. Peru's economic inequalities could incubate a leftist populist challenge to the established political order, but the country remains largely hostile to ideas from that side of the political spectrum. The insurgency by the Shining Path in the 1980s and 1990s stigmatized leftist and pro-Communist political figures, while Alberto Fujimori's long, authoritarian rule in the 1990s hindered the rise of any strong socialist parties after the end of the Cold War. Today, the far-left holds just 20 seats in Congress, although internal feuding resulted in a split into two parties in 2017.
A version of right-wing populism could triumph in Peru in 2021, although it is unlikely to alter the country's current political foundations. The conservative-leaning Popular Force is the largest political party in Congress, and its likely candidate, Keiko Fujimori — daughter of the aforementioned 1990s president — remains highly popular. Fujimori, who lost the 2016 election to Kuczynski by only 40,000 votes, stands a good chance of winning the presidency in 2021 and — if the stars align — of even gaining a legislative majority. But even if Popular Force scored a double success, Fujimori is an established political figure whose political orientation holds few surprises for the private sector or foreign investors. Although she commands significant approval ratings in Peru's poor, rural periphery, Fujimori's brand of populist politics is mild by regional standards, and she is more interested in earning votes for the next election than in upending the country's political stability with controversial proposals.
With so many splits, Peru's political system is always likely to produce day-to-day political drama, simply because there are few impediments to Congress turning on weak presidents. The country's current leader could depart on March 22 or stumble along amid the ever-looming threat of new impeachment proceedings, yet neither alternative will impinge upon Peru's stability. Political divisions in the country might leave presidents struggling to keep Congress content, but they also ward off populist attacks on the underlying political order that has guaranteed longer-term political and economic stability. March 22 might determine the fate of Kuczynski, but certainly not that of Peru.