LIMA, Peru (AP) — In a colonial-era mansion that has seen better days, leaders of Peru’s Fuerza Popular movement gathered for an urgent meeting on Thursday, seeking ways to salvage the once-dominant place of their party in politics.
President Martín Vizcarra dissolved congress earlier this week and called new elections after a dispute with lawmakers over anti-corruption efforts, unilaterally eliminating Fuerza Popular’s hard-won majority in the legislature. Meanwhile, the party leader was already sitting behind bars in a women’s prison filled with drug dealers and petty thieves as she faces a money laundering investigation.
The dissolution of Congress has plunged Peru into its deepest constitutional crisis in nearly three decades, and it could also be the start of a dark, final chapter for the country’s most prominent political dynasty. When the legislature was last closed in 1992, strongman Alberto Fujimori sat in the presidential palace to set the tone. Fast forward 27 years, and now it’s the party led by his darling eldest daughter that’s being expelled.
When the leaders of Fuerza Popular emerged from their headquarters after their meeting, they encountered a cruel reality: much of Peru no longer loves them.
“You are all going to hell! Susana Valverde, 48, shouted at a small group of women chanting slogans demanding justice for Keiko Fujimori, the former first daughter and two-time presidential candidate.
The political phenomenon known in Peru as “Fujimorismo” has had its wild ups and downs but it has always managed to bounce back. This time might be different. If new legislative elections are held in 2020, as Vizcarra predicts, the party will almost certainly lose its majority in congress.
“Fujimorismo is on a death spiral,” said Harvard University political scientist Steven Levitsky. “He will be clubbed in the upcoming elections. That’s a pretty dramatic drop. »
The political dynasty began in 1990 when Alberto Fujimori, the Lima-born son of Japanese immigrants, won the presidency promising to usher Peru into a new era of progress. His pro-business policies, sweeping anti-crime initiatives aimed at crushing Shining Path rebels, and social programs have made him popular with large numbers of Peruvians, including Nancy Rios.
“The ‘chinito’ came in and had some nice rides,” Rios said, using a popular nickname for the jailed former president. “When he arrived, this country was totally destroyed, worse than Venezuela. With him, we found peace, economic stability.
But after a decade in office, Fujimori faxed his resignation after fleeing to Japan as he faced impending impeachment by an opposition-controlled Congress. In 2005, he was captured in Chile and extradited to Lima, where he was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses, corruption and death squad punishment.
The former math teacher is still serving time for his role in the murder of 25 people, including an 8-year-old boy, during his administration.
Still, there were plenty of Peruvians willing to forgive Fujimorismo. Keiko Fujimori carried his father’s torch, broadening the party’s base and seeking to forge a softer, kinder image of the movement. In many ways, she has largely succeeded.
“I will support the party until the day I die,” said Rios, a housewife.
In 2011, Keiko Fujimori finished second in the Peruvian presidential election. Five years later, she lost again in a slim vote, less than half a percentage point from defeating economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Fuerza Popular obtained the majority in the congress.
But it was a descent from that high point.
Constantly clashing with Kuczynski and then Vizcarra, its lawmakers earned a reputation as hardline obstructionists for blocking grassroots initiatives among Peruvians aimed at curbing the country’s endemic corruption.
“It was a party that behaved less like a political party and more like a mafia,” Levitsky said.
Late last year, Keiko Fujimori was sentenced to jail as prosecutors investigate accusations that she embezzled money from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for her 2011 presidential campaign, a dramatic fall for a woman who would otherwise have probably been the favorite in the next election.
Lawmakers whose seats are threatened by Vizcarra’s congressional dissolution order say they are ready to fight, even though polls indicate most Peruvians want them out. They are crafting a legal challenge in hopes of keeping congress open and avoiding the 2020 election.
“We are not going to allow any situation in which the left takes the majority,” said Luis Galarreta, one of the lawmakers.
Party members call the president’s action a “modern coup” and say they are now in a battle to prevent Peru from becoming “another Venezuela”.
Lawmaker Juan Carlos González says the media is spreading a false narrative that the party has lost public support. He noted that more than 2,000 people turned out at a recent town hall-style meeting he hosted.
“The party has been declared dead,” he said. “We are not going to remain silent.”
Levitsky estimates that Fujimorismo maintains 10-15% public support and believes that although weakened, the party will not completely disappear, particularly if it manages to forge a partnership with other right-wing groups.
But for Peruvians like Maria Quispe, who works in a restaurant in a poor neighborhood now filled with Venezuelan migrants, the public’s relationship with Fujimorismo is irretrievably broken. She voted for Alberto Fujimori in 1990, but said she couldn’t bring herself to vote for anyone from the movement now.
“They had a chance, but continued to do what was in their own interest,” she said. “There is no way at this point that everything can be forgotten.”