On January 26, Peruvians will vote in a special election to fill all 130 seats in the country’s unicameral Congress. The move comes almost four months after President Martín Vizcarra dissolved the legislature in a constitutional showdown with opposition lawmakers, and less than two weeks after the country’s Constitutional Court ratified that move. The lawmakers will serve just 18 months until the current legislative session ends in July 2021. While polls indicate that the longstanding fujimorista Fuerza Popular party will see its representation go down below 30 percent for the first time in almost 15 years, what the new legislature will look like—much less be able to accomplish—remains unclear, says constitutional law expert Alonso Gurmendi of the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima.
A lot of the uncertainty at the moment can be tied to voter apathy with close to a third of voters saying they plan to cast blank ballots. Even before September’s constitutional crisis, Congress had an approval rating of 15 percent, and it’s been over three years since the public had a more favorable-than-not view of the legislative branch. In fact, the main figure they approve of—Vizcarra, whose approval rating is running at close to 60 percent—isn’t even on the ballot, since Peruvians will vote for the first time for just the legislature and not for the presidency simultaneously.
“This is a very weird election because you don’t have a cult of personality.”
Peruvians, says Gurmendi, are traditionally not as concerned with a left-right debate but simply with whoever can deliver action. Heading into Sunday’s vote, political and financial corruption, along with crime and violence, are by far the most worrisome issues for voters, according to Ipsos. In that context, these special elections could be an opportunity to new centrist parties like Julio Guzmán’s Purple Party and rebranded establishment parties such as Popular Action to become new players in the next year and a half. And, even with a shorter time in session, there could be an opportunity for Congress to make much-needed constitutional reforms with a willing executive like Vizcarra in office, he says.
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This episode was produced by Luisa Leme. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at musicoftheamericas.org.