Stuck in a Cycle of Corruption: Peru's New Anti-Corruption Reform

February 13, 2019

The political attempt at fighting corruption can be a relentless cycle. In countries with high rates of corruption it can be especially difficult to address corruption. Many developing countries like Peru have been stuck in this corruption cycle due to politicians campaigning for anti-corruption movements, but lacking the actual intent of fighting corruption. Nevertheless, recently Peru’s president, Martín Vizcarra, initiated a anti-corruption reform. This anti-corruption reform is not the first of its kind in Peru. Despite the hopeful rhetoric that an anti-corruption reform promotes, often it is just a mechanism of gaining political trust.

Nevertheless, Vizcarra introduced an anti-corruption reform that would increase the checks and balances of political and judicial leaders. The mandatory voting law in Peru made sure that all eligible citizens participated in voting on this referendum. On the day the polls opened, December 9, 2019, the final amount of registered voters was 24.3 million (Aquino, 2018). These voters were mandated to vote on four proposals:

“1. Change the system used to appoint judges and prosecutors

2. Toughen laws on electoral campaign financing (adding criminal penalties)

3. Limit lawmakers’ terms by banning immediate re-election” (Collyns, 2018)

4. “Change Peru’s one-chamber legislature to a bicameral system” (Collyns, 2018)

Of the eligible voter pool, the exit poll described how 87.1% approved the second proposal for increasing the regulation of the finances done by the electoral campaign. Likewise 85% of the population voted for the first proposal regarding judicial change. The third proposal received a similar amount of support, as 85.2% voted in favor for this reform, as immediate re-election after a five-year term was not perceived as advantageous. However, the last proposal was contrastingly rejected, as this would create a second chamber in congress (Aquino, 2018). This portrays the disdain that Peruvians feel towards politicians (Collyns, 2018). However, these exit polls are noted to have a 5.5% margin of error (Aquino, 2018).   

The anti-corruption sentiments are demonstrated through the results of this reform. These sentiments had been exacerbated in the months prior that were full of corruption scandals in many governmental sectors. For example, in July 2018 there was an extensive scandal among the judicial system’s main officers. This scandal revealed the phone conversations of five officials: “The chief justice of the Superior Court of Callao, a Supreme Court justice and three members of the National Magistrates Council” (Tan, 2018). The recordings gave evidence of corruption that dealt with illegal bribes to secure positions for new judges and bribes to lower sentences of criminals. The main officials in the recordings have resigned from their positions, terminated, or been suspended (Tan, 2018). While scandals among governmental leaders and the elite is not a new concept to Peru, this scandal was “one of the worst 15, 20 years” (Tan, 2018). They confirmed suspicions and eliminated any trust for officials that remained in society. Many Peruvians protested for the removal of any corrupt leader after this scandal. Thus, Vizcarra brought the people what they wanted—an anti-corruption referendum that will finally bring integrity back into their government.

The results of this poll was also a symbol of Peru’s support for Vizcarra and what he represents. Specifically, the positive results of the first three proposals represents that the people are choosing to put their trust in Vizcarra to take steps toward reducing corruption among judges and politicians. Vizcarra began as the vice president to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski who was forced to resign due to corruption accusations in March 2018. Vizcarra took this as an opportunity to fight against corruption that is rooted in Peru (Collyns, 2018). Specifically, in October Vizcarra stated that “If this government is remembered, it will be for fighting against corruption, in theory and in practice, and I stress in practice, because in theory everyone has said they will fight against corruption” (Collyns, 2018).  Thus, Vizcarra has acknowledge the tendency for leaders to campaign for anti-corruption policies, but then in reality they do little to make reform to decrease corruption. He portrays himself as the one who will be active in the movement against corruption in Peru.

However, according to a research article by Joseph Pozsgai-Alvarez, anti-corruption efforts often are used for the personal agenda of earning political trust. In addition, he portrays how many developing nations find it difficult to successfully implement anti-corruption laws. Pozsgai-Alvarez finds that the choosing to propose anti-corruption laws is often a choice made after considering the costs and benefits of applying these laws. Political leaders, like Vizcarra, choose to encourage new measures that aim to decrease corruption when there is a direct relationship with a beneficial outcome. Likewise, often politicians have a disguised goal when they propose anti-corruption measures. For example,  anti-corruption reforms are used to gain what Pozsgai-Alvarez calls political capital (Pozsgai-Alvarez, 2018). This form of capital is when politicians have earned a great amount of resources and power through the use of strong relationships, trust, and influence among other politicians or elite figures.

Due to the extent to which corruption is present at each level in society, the outcomes of anti-corruption measures are often non-existent. Therefore, if the reforms are insincere and simply ‘for show’ then it is obvious that they will not make a significant impact in a nation.  This has been the case in past Peruvian campaigns for anti-corruption, as well as throughout the development world. Pozsgai-Alvarez describes how because political leaders are tempted to exploit their society, anti-corruption initiatives are seen to be “followed by sabotage or lack of implementation”  (Pozsgai-Alvarez, 2018). Nevertheless, Pozsgai-Alvarez does suggest that if you study the politician’s tendencies and interests, one could determine the extent to which the anti-corruption reforms have potential. In addition to recognizing this leader’s tendencies, it is important to also analyze the administration’s past actions and political preferences. This will help to develop a proper analysis that can determine the success rate of any anti-corruption proposal on a case-by-case basis. This analysis is a possible method to combat the political cycle that is present in anti-corruption measures, as nations can use this information to make well informed decisions on confronting leaders (Pozsgai-Alvarez, 2018).

The political cycle that was previously mentioned is a five stage cycle that Pozsgai-Alvarez argues many highly corrupt countries are stuck in. The cycle begins with demands to eliminate corruption. This is the start of the cycle that is coupled with the government’s need to gain society’s approval and trust. Then follows a government led anti-corruption movement through a new policy or reform. Now the government finds itself with more political capital. As society gets more trusting of the government their needs for anti-corruption initiatives goes down, and the government loosens their focus on anti-corruption measures. This leads us to the final stage of the political cycle of battling corruption, in which efforts of reducing corruption are exhausted and political will to continue prioritizing the measures is limited. Thus, it is easy at the end of the cycle for a government to slip back into corrupt tendencies. Pozsgai-Alvarez describes how often this is the result that occurs at the end of the cycle. Thus, the cycle will restart after corruption returns to the government (Pozsgai-Alvarez, 2018).

Nevertheless, it is not suggested that changes will not be made by Vizcarra. The new anti-corruption reforms that he has support for may make headway in reducing corruption in Peru. However, a successful implementation of his favorable proposals will be seen if his entire administration is on the same page. If the majority of officials are not in alliance with Vizcarra’s anti-corruption policies then it is likely that Peru will continue to be trapped in the political cycle of fighting corruption.



About Author(s)

Carley Clontz
Carley is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Economics, Spanish, French, Global Studies, and Latin American Studies. Through academic programs, Carley has traveled to Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia. This is her first year as an intern for Panoramas.