TC's transfuguismo ruling has important implications for political parties

9 September 2017

It remains to be seen whether, or to what extent, the pro-Fujimori majority in Congress will seek to void the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) questioning their own law that prevents party-hopping (transfuguismo). Moves now appear to be afoot to try to circumvent the TC’s decision rescinding the legal barriers to members of Congress switching parties.

The Fujimorista Fuerza Popular (FP)’s concern to pass the original law last year has been widely seen as a mechanism to prevent the party, with its absolute majority in Congress, falling apart. Were this to happen, it could change the balance of power in Congress in significant ways.

The Tribunal’s decision finds unconstitutional a number of clauses in the law on transfuguismo. Under this law, those who renounce the whip of the party for which they were elected are prevented from joining another party or taking part in congressional committees. They become what are sometimes referred to as ‘parliamentary zombies’.

Many commentators have argued that, though the practice of transfuguismo weakens the solidity of parties with representation in Congress, the purpose of the law was not to reaffirm party identities but simply to prevent those elected last year on the FP ticket from jumping ship.

Of its original 73 members in Congress (two have effectively resigned the FP whip), the vast majority were local politicians ‘invited’ by the FP leadership to stand for the party in last year’s elections. Less than 20 of the total had a proven past as party militants. The temptations to jump on the Fujimori bandwagon were strong indeed for those last year seeking a seat in Congress and the parliamentary privileges that go with it. Having achieved election, many would probably distance themselves were it not for the anti-transfuguismo law.

It is, of course, ironic that it was during the Fujimori government (1990-2000) that Peru’s already weak party system was pulverised and the practice of party-hopping began. Readers will recall that it was Vladimiro Montesinos’ attempts to buy politicians’ loyalties that brought about the scandal of the ‘vladivideos’ and the downfall of the Fujimori regime in 2000.

Lifting the prohibition on transfuguismo thus threatens to blow open Fuerza Popular, divided as it is between those who support Kenji Fujimori and those that back his sister Keiko. Kenji (who leads the ‘Albertista’ wing of the party most loyal to the jailed former-president) is thought to count on the backing of 23 members of Congress. Were they to form an independent bloc, it would severely clip Keiko’s political wings.

It would also have significant implications for other parties too, most of which suffer acute internal tensions of their own. The left-wing Frente Amplio has already split between those supporting Tierra y Libertad and those who back Verónika Mendoza (Nuevo Perú); congressmen for the ruling Peruanos por el Kambio (PpK) are in a state of undeclared war; and APRA (since its recent Congress) sees the pro-García wing at loggerheads with senior party figures like Jorge del Castillo.

Lifting the lid on transfuguismo could therefore transform the balance of forces in Congress. But it would do little to harden party discipline or promote stronger partisan identities.

In the longer run, the issue will have to form part of a more comprehensive re-ordering of the legislation on political parties, not least the ways in which they finance their activities. Faced by the scandals surrounding Lava Jato, the electoral authorities are busy promoting a package of reforms in advance of next year’s municipal and regional elections.

The problem is that, as they stand, the parties (and notably those elected under the FP banner) have little interest in approving changes to a system of which they were the main beneficiaries.

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