Uncertainty persists as Peru moves closer to Castillo presidency

Uncertainty persists as Peru moves closer to Castillo presidency

Lima, Peru – With the world’s highest per capita coronavirus death toll and a third wave set to start sweeping the country later this month, Peru’s COVID-19 vaccination program could hardly be more critical.
And as incumbent interim president Francisco Sagasti’s vaccination effort gains momentum, the government has recommended that apparent incoming president Pedro Castillo avoid disruption by keeping health ministry officials overseeing him.

“It would give a lot of peace,” said Camille Webb, an infectious disease expert at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute of Tropical Medicine in Lima. “It would be the most prudent thing and also the smartest politically. “

Yet with less than two weeks of his slated July 28 inauguration and more than three months since Peru’s first round of presidential elections, Castillo’s vaccination strategy remains a mystery – as do his policies on just about everything else. , from economics to education. .

Surprise victory

The shocking victory of the 51-year-old left-wing rural schoolteacher seems to have surprised him as much as the rest of Peru.

With no public service experience and no political adviser until earlier this month, Castillo has made limited public comments since the June 6 run-off election, instead huddling in private talks with members of his Free Peru party.

During the election campaign, Castillo made a series of political promises that rocked big investors and ordinary Peruvians, including the nationalization of Peru’s huge mining sector and the ban on imports, but which he now appears to have abandoned. .

However, he continues to push for a referendum to set up a constituent assembly, arguing that Peru’s current constitution, approved in 1993 under the tough and fiercely free-market right-wing president Alberto Fujimori, who is now in prison for human rights violations, limits the state’s ability to provide public services such as health care and education.

Yet Castillo has yet to make it clear what specific policies are blocked by the current Magna Carta.

“You don’t know what Castillo is going to do because he doesn’t know it,” said Pablo Secada, economist and prominent member of the Popular Christian Party (PPC), a center-right political party. “The uncertainty is very damaging. “

A supporter wears a shirt with an image of Peru’s right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori that reads “Always with you”, in Lima on June 26 [File: Gerardo Marin/Reuters]

‘An unknown’

While Castillo remains largely silent, beyond vague promises that he will provide free COVID-19 injections to all Peruvians without indicating how, members of Free Peru and other Castillo allies have fought to know until where his government should go.

The debate is led by party founder Vladimir Cerron, a former Marxist regional governor expelled from public service by corruption conviction and with a record of xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic comments. He is pushing for Castillo to maintain the radical posture he maintained during the election campaign.

Cerron’s pressure comes despite the fact that the upcoming 130-member single-chamber Congress will be split between 10 parties but likely controlled by right-wing opposition groups. This includes the Fujimoristas with 24 lawmakers and another ultra-conservative group, Popular Renewal, with 13, whose leader even called for Castillo’s “death”.

This will leave Castillo little room to maneuver. He could even face an accelerated impeachment like the one that toppled President Martin Vizcarra in November 2020.

“Even after being elected, Castillo remains a stranger,” said Gonzalo Banda, a political scientist at the Peruvian Catholic University of Santa Marta. “A few weeks ago, it looked like he was moderating.” Now he meets Cerron again. Who will be [in] his cabinet? There are no announcements, no press conferences. All this still remains a mystery.

Castillo supporters rally behind a police barricade in front of the national election jury, in Lima, Peru, June 11 [File: Angela Ponce/Reuters]

Fraud claims

This left a dangerous void which Castillo’s second-round opponent Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Alberto Fujimori, filled with unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud.

According to the Peruvian electoral agency, ONPE, Castillo led the second round by 44,000 votes out of nearly 19 million votes, or 50.13% against 49.87% for Fujimori.

The election was deemed free and fair by the Organization of American States, the European Union and the US State Department, but Fujimori, 46, who faces a corruption trial and potentially jail time Long – unless she gets presidential immunity – refuses to concede.

His lawyers sought to overturn 200,000 votes, mostly indigenous and mixed-race voters from impoverished communities in the Andes and Amazon, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of Castillo. Although independent experts agree his claims are baseless, the lengthy appeal process has so far prevented election officials from declaring Castillo the winner.

His disinformation campaign convinced a significant minority of Peruvians, especially among Lima’s elite who were frightened by Castillo’s radical messages, that once invested he will not be a legitimate president.

There have even been calls from retired military officers, including a former admiral who is one of the favorites to be president of the new Congress, to refuse to recognize Castillo as president.

“This is not a good omen”

Meanwhile, a small but staunch group of Fujimori supporters who call themselves The Resistance are waging a fierce and often violent campaign against Castillo’s imminent official proclamation as the second-round winner.

This week, they attempted to storm the presidential residence in downtown Lima, attacking journalists and passers-by, smashing local shops and stoning two ministerial cars, one of which was carrying Health Minister Oscar Ugarte. .

Banda estimated that the Resistance has as few as 500 members. Nonetheless, the failure of police and prosecutors to deal with them in recent weeks has set a worrying precedent for the potential for heightened violence once Castillo takes office, he said.

“Keiko no longer has any control over these people,” Banda told Al Jazeera. “It’s a more extreme right, and they have this feeling of impunity. They are used to not suffering the consequences. This does not bode well for the next five years.


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