The new president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, seems to have overcome the multiple obstacles posed by Keiko Fujimori, defeated in the second round of the June 6 elections. Once declared the winner by the electorate, after a narrow victory of just forty thousand votes out of around 19 million voters, Castillo is expected to take office on July 28, when the country celebrates the bicentenary of its independence. Therefore, the new president will have to face the considerable challenges that await him for his five-year term.
Yet, three weeks after her defeat, the opponent – the daughter of dictator Alberto Fujimori sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights violations – has not acknowledged Castillo’s victory. Keiko Fujimori maintains that a fraud has harmed her, continues to organize protest marches – which have already claimed one death among her opponents – and has presented multiple unsubstantiated appeals that have had no effect. The United States, the European Union and international observers stressed the transparency of the elections.
THE CHALLENGES OF CASTILLO
Castillo must, however, prepare for a much more difficult phase, where several fronts are opening up in a social context where requests for solutions are multiplying. Currently, several social conflicts affect different sectors of society, but mainly the extractive industries. In May of this year, the Office of the Ombudsman identified 191 conflicts, which could increase with the arrival of the new government.
First, Castillo’s tenure is legitimate, but the support of 50.1% of the electorate is insufficient to undertake a major transformation. Second, the party that presented him as a candidate adheres to conservative Marxism-Leninism on issues such as family and gender, and maintains an anachronistic program. And third, the first round of elections determined that there are ten parties occupying seats in Congress. In this context, leading the executive will not be enough to effect radical change.
Pedro Castillo knows it. He is a man of humble origin, professor and evangelical who comes from a small Andean village where he has worked until now. In 200 years of independent life, the country has never seen a man with this profile ascend to the presidency.
Castillo was trained as a union leader within the teachers’ union, and when he decided to go into politics he intended to form a party based on the country’s teachers, who number more half a million. The task of collecting signatures in order to register the party with electoral authorities was halted in 2020 by restrictions imposed by the pandemic. It was then that the leaders of Free Peru – a regional party in the center of the country which has an electoral register – nominated him as the party’s founder and candidate for the post had just been convicted by the courts for his mismanagement of public funds. .
THE PHANTOM OF COMMUNISM
To the radical ideology of Peru Libre has been added the participation of professors linked to MOVADEF – a group which seeks, by legal means, what the Communist Party of Peru-Sendero Luminoso has proposed to achieve with weapons – which led the mainstream media to identify Castillo with communism. This planted the idea that, if elected, the country would become a Venezuela.
Although the campaign for Keiko Fujimori was fueled by fear of communism and contempt for the peasant teacher, most ended up choosing the candidate who most resembled them.
“The teacher” does not hide his limits and takes refuge in plentiful speeches in general. This is why some commentators agree that we do not know what he will do in office. However, in May, he presented a government plan for the first 100 days that eschews radicalism but maintains the need to review contracts that accord overly favorable treatment to mineral and gas exploration.
WHAT WILL THE GOVERNMENT BENCH LOOK LIKE?
The recent approach of educated left advisers outside Peru Libre has refined definitions of future government and has given rise to some struggles with party leaders, which brings another front to the internal affairs of government.
The crack will probably be reproduced in the parliamentary representation of Peru Libre, which has 37 members of Congress out of 130. Apparently, part of them was selected by Castillo himself and another by the management of Peru Libre, so in in the coming weeks it will be possible to find out whether the government has its own caucus or whether divisions will arise.
If the 37 members of Congress acted united, they would likely be joined by 13 others from the left and center, who together would not achieve a majority. The right, however, is said to have at least three forces totaling 44 members of Congress. Three other groups, with 36 parliamentarians, are likely to divide or agree on the right or the left at their convenience.
Castillo will have to be very careful, on the one hand, to keep the Peru Libre caucus together and, on the other hand, to have the flexibility necessary to conclude agreements with forces that demonstrate openness to circumstantial agreements. If he fails to cross that narrow ledge, Congress could take advantage of any misstep to step down from the presidency.
THE ENTREPRENEUR IS ANOTHER BIG CHALLENGE
Another front is the corporate sector. While there was financial support for this sector out of fear of communist campaigns, realism prevailed on Sunday 27, when an editorial in the conservative daily El Comercio declared “enough” of Fujimori’s baseless fraud allegations. .
Castillo’s announcement on the eve of asking current Central Bank President Julio Velarde to stay in office appears to have been decisive. The president-elect also said: “We are not Chavistas, we are not Communists, we are not going to keep anyone’s property, that is wrong. We are democrats, we will respect governability, Peruvian institutionality ”. The value of the dollar fell and the Lima Stock Exchange recovered.
This week there appears to have been a divorce between the business interests and the political ambitions of those who claimed to represent them. The first, more realistic, seem to have accepted Castillo’s victory and are preparing to live with the new government.
But, of course, it will be conditional acceptance. In particular, businessmen will be attentive to the government’s management of social conflicts and to the search for solutions acceptable to the plaintiffs and, at the same time, which do not alarm the great economic interests. It will be another narrow ledge for a government fraught with challenges.
* Translation from Spanish by Maria Isabel Santos Lima