Peru Congress fragmented by Fujimori opposition collapse

Luis Jaime CISNEROS, Francisco JARA
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Center-right President Martin Vizcarra appears to be the biggest winner from legislative elections that decimated the Keiko Fujimori-led opposition

The opposition's crushing defeat in Peru's legislative elections has left a fragmented Congress without a dominant party -- but with a surprising newcomer threatening to become a serious player.

Keiko Fujimori's Popular Force lost dozens of seats Sunday in the Congress it had dominated since 2016, shrinking from 73 out of 130 seats to an expected 16.

The Christian evangelical fundamentalist party Frepap is expected to have a larger representation as the fourth largest group with a projected 12 seats.

"Frepap's success is in part due to a transfer of votes from the collapse of Fujimorism," analyst Luis Benavente, director of the Vox Populi consultancy, told AFP.

The vote share for Frepap, whose leaders wear long beards and flowing tunics in the style of Jesus, "is part of Peru's significant protest vote," political analyst Carlos Melendez said on Twitter.

Popular Force looks to have paid for its leader's implication in the sprawling Odebrecht corruption scandal.

Fujimori is accused of accepting $1.2 million in illicit party funding from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht for her unsuccessful 2011 presidential election campaign.

Odebrecht has admitted to paying at least $29 million to Peruvian officials since 2004, and bribing four former Peruvian presidents.

The scandal destroyed the popularity of the 44-year-old daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000).

She spent 13 months in pre-trial detention before being released in November, and on Tuesday faces a judge's decision on whether to send her back to jail.

"It's the collapse of Fujimorism, it's a very deep fall, a very hard blow," Benavente said of the election result.

- 'Political minorities' -

The big winner was center-right President Martin Vizcarra, who dissolved parliament in September and called snap legislative elections in a bid to end a political crisis between the executive and Congress.

His attempts to push through anti-corruption reforms had been repeatedly blocked by Popular Force.

Vizcarra said he wants to establish with the new Congress "a responsible, mature relationship that seeks a consensus that benefits Peru."

Vizcarra doesn't have a party but with centrist parties in the ascendency, the president will "achieve a more bearable relationship" with Congress than he had done with Fujimori, said political analyst Augusto Alvarez.

The new Congress will sit for only 16 months as a general election is already scheduled for April 2021.

With 60 percent of Sunday's votes counted, hardly any party has managed more than 10 percent. The center-right Popular Action party is expected to come out on top, with 24 seats.

Another center-right party, Alliance for Progress, is next on 18 seats, with the nationalist Union for Peru on 17.

The largest left-wing party, the Broad Front, is expected to come in joint fifth with the right-wing Popular Force on 12 seats.

It has been an even worse election for Popular Force's main ally, the social-democratic APRA of former president Alan Garcia, who died by suicide in April as police arrived at his home to arrest him in a corruption case related to the Odebrecht scandal.

APRA, Peru's oldest political party, is expected to lose all of its seats.

"This election... shows that we're a country of political minorities, practically microscopic" ones, Melendez told AFP.

- Huge support for Vizcarra -

There were more than 2,300 candidates representing 21 parties in Sunday's election -- the first time legislative polls have been held separately from presidential voting.

It came about after Vizcarra dissolved Congress on September 30, a move that was popular among Peru's 25 million population.

The opposition accused him of a "coup d'etat" and swore in Vice President Mercedes Araoz as "acting president" but she resigned the following day.

The opposition took its case to the constitutional court, which ruled in Vizcarra's favor.

Demonstrators took to the streets to support Vizcarra and his anti-corruption push.

Polls showed 90 percent support for the president's daring move.