By David Blanco Bonilla
Lima, Jul 26 (EFE).- Peruvian President-elect Pedro Castillo will take office on Wednesday with the dual challenges of dispelling fears about the direction of his future administration and lifting the bitterly divided country out of its coronavirus doldrums.
After a drawn-out runoff election process in which the leftist candidate narrowly edged right-wing hopeful Keiko Fujimori by just 44,000 votes, the new president now figures to face daily obstacles from an opposition-controlled legislature.
“The big political challenge will be a Congress where he lacks a majority and … many of the (lawmakers) believe he is an illegitimate president,” analyst Gelin Espinoza told Efe.
She was referring to allegations of “systematic fraud” leveled by Fujimori after the runoff despite a lack of hard evidence to support her claims.
Political scientist Sandro Venturo, for his part, said it is paramount that Castillo “make key decisions about the political bent of his government,” noting that the more centrist elements of his movement are counterbalanced by the Marxist ideology of his Peru Libre party.
“We’re in a scenario of high levels of political fragmentation. The right is divided. The left is divided despite the enthusiasm (Castillo) generates. And in general there’s a big government-society divide,” Venturo told Efe.
Castillo comes to power after a months-long smear campaign in which opponents responded to his vows to rewrite the constitution and overhaul Peru’s economic model by branding him a “communist” and a “Chavista.”
Some analysts believe the political frictions will lead to a congressional bid to remove Castillo from office via impeachment, as lawmakers did in late 2020 when then-President Martin Vizcarra was ousted in a controversial move many Peruvians regarded as a legislative coup.
The new president undeniably faces strong headwinds, with elite sectors strongly opposed to his election and politicians and business leaders alike demanding a pact that ensures the continuance of the nation’s market-driven economic model.
“The economic power (structure) is going to try to place a host of obstacles in front of Castillo so he gradually cedes ground. That’s another big challenge he faces,” Espinoza said.
Venturo said, for his part, that Castillo also will face the individual challenge of cementing his political leadership after a campaign in which he was unable to form a strong technical team and clearly and unequivocally detail his political proposals.
“If he was unable to run a good campaign, the legitimate question is, will he be able to lead a good government?” Venturo asked rhetorically, adding that Castillo, the leading candidate in the first round of balloting with just 19 percent of the vote, won the runoff “in spite of himself and thanks to the weaknesses of Fujimori,” a polarizing figure who is under investigation for alleged corruption and money laundering.
Castillo also must clarify his plans for lifting Peru out of the health crisis.
Peru has reported more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 200,000 Covid-19-related deaths, and the pandemic exposed the country’s deficient and poorly organized medical system.
The health emergency also battered an economy that had been one of Latin America’s biggest success stories in recent years, causing the nation’s gross domestic product to plunge by nearly 11 percent in one year and poverty and inequality to grow.
But beyond the myriad challenges he faces, Venturo said there is “powerful symbolism” in the fact that Castillo, a former rural schoolteacher and union activist, will be sworn in on the same day Peru celebrates the bicentennial of its independence from Spain.
Espinoza likewise stressed the symbolic importance of Castillo’s inauguration, recalling that the president-elect has vowed to end the privileges enjoyed by a select few and ensure equal rights and greater opportunities for all Peruvians. EFE