Peru’s Leader More Popular Than Ever After Shutting Congress

John Quigley
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Peru’s Leader More Popular Than Ever After Shutting Congress

(Bloomberg) -- Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra’s decision to dissolve Congress to end a long-running political feud has made him the country’s most popular leader in more than three decades.

Vizcarra’s approval rating soared to 82% from 52% last month, according to a poll by Lima-based Datum Internacional poll published in Gestion and Peru21 newspapers on Thursday. His decision to shut the legislative body was supported by 85% of those questioned while 74% said it will be beneficial for the country.

Thousands of Peruvians celebrated in the streets after Vizcarra told the Andean nation Sept. 30 that he was invoking his constitutional right to dissolve Congress and calling new parliamentary elections. While some opposition lawmakers said the move amounted to a coup and plan to fight it in the courts, his surging popularity underlines the repudiation of Peru’s political parties following a series of corruption scandals.

Read More: Peruvians Celebrate Shuttered Congress, Ignoring Ugly Precedent

“The public associated Congress with corruption, obstructionism and a sense of paralysis, which eroded confidence and fueled demand for change,” said Urpi Torrado, Datum’s chief executive officer.

Vizcarra will likely maintain a high approval rating at least until parliamentary election scheduled for Jan. 26, she said by phone from Lima. To sustain his popularity beyond that, the president will need to deliver tangible results in the fight against corruption, reviving economic growth and combating crime, according to Torrado.

The boost to public sentiment may lift consumer confidence, which is positive for the economy, she said.

Moving Ahead

The president is quickly building on his increasing popularity to regain power and send a message of normality after last week’s political crisis. Vizcarra swore in a new ministerial team Oct. 3 and on Thursday he is hosting Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, the first foreign dignitary to visit the country since the dissolution.

Until a new Congress is in place next year, the government can legislate using decrees to deliver on its policy proposals. Cabinet chief Vicente Zeballos said Wednesday that the government will exercise caution with its expanded lawmaking powers and pledged to outline its plans within 30 days.

Congress’ standing committee, which represents parliament in the interim, on Thursday filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court challenging the legality of Vizcarra’s decision.

Vizcarra’s surging job approval is a reminder of the country’s penchant for a strongman. Alberto Fujimori’s decision to shut Peru’s Congress in 1992 was also hugely popular, though his methods were heavy-handed and far from constitutional.

At the time, Fujimori said Congress was obstructing his government’s fight against terrorist groups. He sent soldiers and tanks to close it, assumed all legislative and judicial powers and suspended much of the constitution. A new charter approved in 1993 included an article allowing the president to dissolve Congress should the government lose two votes of confidence, which Vizcarra invoked to justify his decision.

The 2018 Latinobarometro public opinion poll placed Peru as the Latin American nation that least trusts its legislature, with approval of just 8% of the population.

(Adds lawmaker’s lawsuit in ninth paragraph)

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