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Peru's Vizcarra looking at early elections in 2020

Demetrius Freeman /Bloomberg

Martin Vizcarra, The Latin American Leader Flouts History With Bid to Step Down Early

- Vizcarra wants to hold an election next year and step down
- President says country needs new beginning after scandals

By Carolina Wilson and John Quigley / Bloomberg

Petroleumworld 09 26 2019

Latin America has long suffered from leaders who clung on to power at any cost, trampling democratic institutions in the process. Peru's current leader is proposing the exact opposite.

After months of tussling with the opposition-controlled Congress over his anti-graft program, President Martin Vizcarra said in an interview that the best option is to call early presidential and parliamentary elections in 2020, in which he won't be a candidate, to give the country a fresh start.

“There are extremists who say: ‘And why not close Congress?' And others, ‘Why don't we impeach the president?'”, Vizcarra said Wednesday at the Peruvian ambassador's residence in New York. “Given those two options, the most responsible proposal is for the political class to step aside, so that there can be a new beginning,” Vizcarra said.

The opposition seems to disagree. Congress's constitutional committee said it would vote Thursday on a proposal to reject Vizcarra's early-election bill.

Peru has been gripped by political turmoil since the last election in 2016, when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski scraped through a runoff vote while his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, won a majority in Congress. Vizcarra took office roughly 18 months ago -- after Kuczynski quit on the eve of an impeachment vote.

Political confrontation has continued as opposition parties drag their feet on reforms designed to stamp out graft in the judicial and political systems. Championing the corruption fight has boosted Vizcarra's popularity at a time when many political parties and their leaders are implicated in a continent-wide bribery scandal known as Carwash. Kuczynski, 80, is under house arrest while Fujimori, the 44-year-old daughter of former autocrat Alberto Fujimori, is in pre-trial detention following a probe into illicit campaign donations.

In July, Vizcarra stunned the country by proposing to bring forward a general election to April of next year, instead of waiting until 2021. He backed closing a loophole in the constitution that could allow interim presidents like himself from running for office immediately.

Vizcarra said he's optimistic the move will win majority backing, though he declined to comment on what he would do if his proposal is rejected.

Investors Unfazed

As lawmakers squabble, uncertainty surrounding whether elections will take place and also who would win them risks slowing much-needed investment. The paralysis has already led analysts to cut economic growth forecasts for this year and next.

“It is not that this measure or proposal creates uncertainty,” Vizcarra said. “On the contrary, what it seeks to do is to overcome uncertainty.”

But up to this point investors seem unfazed by Peru's political turbulence, reassured by years of strong growth and responsible spending. The sol is the best-peforming major Latin American currency this year.

While he remains in power, Vizcarra said he'll press ahead with anti-graft reforms, and a program to develop Peru's “enormous” potential in mining, agriculture, forestry and aquaculture.

“We are not lame ducks. We are working on very important reforms. And we will do so until our mandate ends.”

The president said the government is changing tack on a $7.7-billion post-flood rebuilding program to ensure the process is completed by 2021. For the biggest investments his administration will hire companies specializing in project management offices, which the British government implemented to build and operate infrastructure for the Panamerican Games that took place in Lima in July. Municipalities will be responsible for building thousands of other smaller works.

Southern Copper Corp.'s Tia Maria project faces “serious resistance” from the local population and local authorities concerned about the impact on farming, Vizcarra said. The project can't go ahead until their concerns have been allayed, he added.

Venezuelan Policy

The South American country has taken in about 900,000 migrants escaping crisis-wracked Venezuela in the last few years. Vizcarra said the government toughened entry requirements this year as the country had reached its capacity for migrants. “This was a hard and difficult decision for us but it was necessary.”

The president said military intervention to force Nicolas Maduro from power would only make Venezuela's situation worse. He said all other options for resolving the crisis should be on the table, including an amnesty deal.

— With assistance by Ben Bartenstein


Story by Carolina Wilson and John Quigley from Bloomberg. / 09 25 2019


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