Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Peruvian Politics 101

On Sunday 9 April, Peru will go to the polls to elect a new President and Congress. Since there will almost certainly not be a clear majority for any candidate, a second round of voting for president is expected to take place on 7 May.

It's a significant time for Peru; after all the turmoil of the last twenty years, it will be a substantial achievement for the process to run calmly, produce a clear set of results, and deliver an orderly handover of power.

Beyond that, the election will have a major influence on how the country develops over the next five years. There are fairly stark political differences between the presidential candidates, and the eventual outcome will give weight to one of the competing visions of the overall political and economic direction of South America.

The presidential candidates in Peru and their parties are:

Lourdes Flores Nano

The candidate for the Unidad Nacional party, Lourdes Flores is hoping to follow the example of Chile's Michele Bachelet and be the second woman elected president of a South American country. Described by some as a "right-wing conservative", she is in truth more of a pragmatist and a social liberal. Her policies and even some of her language appear to be modelled on those of Alvaro Uribe, the popular centre-right president of Colombia.

In congress since 1990, Flores distinguished herself by being among the staunchest opponents of Alberto Fujimori's constitutional coup in 1992 and a consistent critic of the Fujimori administration. In the last five years she has generally supported the neoliberal, trade-oriented policies of Alejandro Toledo.

Though she was a clear leader in polls as late as December 2005, Flores has gradually been overtaken by Ollanta Humala (see below). The latest poll shows her second, on 27 percent. However, on a head-to-head basis with Humala - likely to be the case in the second round of voting - polls have her preferred by 53 to 47 percent.

According to a poll reported by Peruvian TV station 90 Segundos, of those who say they will vote for Lourdes Flores, only 7 percent are motivated by a belief that she will combat corruption. Twenty-one percent say they will vote for her simply because she is a woman, while 39 percent favour her proposed policies.

She promises to modernize the armed forces, create 650,000 jobs per year through mixed public and private investment, and lift tourism from 1,200,000 to 2 million visitors per annum. Her contribution to the obligatory rhetorical bashing of traditional enemy Chile has been a call to beat Peru's southern neighbour at its own game by strengthening commerce and "winninng the war of globalization".

Her campaign to date has focussed on an exhausting schedule of streetside meet and greet sessions in different parts of Peru. She danced the marinera (the national folk dance) in a visit to the north coast, and got down to reggaeton in the jungle city of Pucallpa.

Despite these efforts, and her clear, concrete policies, critics say that she is struggling to shake off her image as the "candidate of the rich" and to connect emotionally with majority of poor, marginalised Peruvians.

Ollanta Humala

Formerly a lieutenant colonel in the Peruvian army, Humala is head of the Partido Nacionalista, but for the election he and his candidates are running under the banner of the liberal Union por el Peru.

Along with his father Isaac and his brothers Antauro and Ulises, Ollanta Humala is a founder of the "etnocacerist" movement, which combines promotion of power for indigenous people with economic nationalism.

Widely described as a "left-wing populist", Humala sees himself as being in the mould of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and newly elected Bolivian leader Evo Morales. In January he attended the visit of president-elect Morales to the presidential palace in Caracas, where both Chavez and Morales pledged their support.

He promises to "stamp out" corruption and restore dignity to the Peruvian armed forces, which he says have been corrupted by involvement in drug trafficking and domination by graduates of the CIA-influenced School of the Americas (where he himself trained). He opposes foreign control of economic resources in Peru (especially by Chile) and proposes renationalization of key industries, beginning with the most recently privatized.

However, he has stressed a commitment to South American integration and "brotherhood", and boasted of his meetings with Chavez, Morales, Kirchner (Argentina) and Lula (Brazil) - pointedly, of course, leaving out Chile.

Humala has a chequered military and political history. In 1992 he commanded a unit near Tingo Maria during the struggle against the Shining Path, where it is alleged that he involved in human rights abuses. Investigations into this matter are ongoing.

In 2000, he led an "uprising" against Fujimori in the sierra of the Tacna region, along with about 60 other soldiers. Hugo Chavez recently called this a "quixotic" effort, but others have suggested that it was a piece of grandstanding, at a time when Fujimori's government was already crumbling.

Antauro is currently in jail, after his own abortive "uprising" in Andahualylas in January 2005, which I wrote about at the time (there's also some further background on etnocacerism in that post), in which four policemen and one rebel were killed.

Ollanta, who was at the time a military attache in South Korea, gave a rather extraordinary interview to the BBC (here, in Spanish), in which he appeared to both distance himself from the actions of his brother and also justify them.

His campaign has involved many large public rallies, at which he rouses the crowds with stirring rhetoric.

As he has developed his candidacy, Ollanta Humala has been at pains to distance himself from some of the more extreme pronouncements of his family. His father Isaac openly embraces a racial politics, promoting power for "the brown race", and has called the childless Lourdes Flores "an old maid", while his mother Elena has made violently anti-gay remarks. Antauro has contented himself with suggesting that the current president, his wife, and the prime minister "should be shot".

Ollanta has reportedly told his parents to stop making public pronouncements, and groaned at a press conference that "sometimes I wonder if Antauro is actually an enemy".

However, Antauro was today (6 April) recorded as saying from his jail cell that the distance established between himself and Ollanta is "strategic" and that "[their] objective is the same".

The Lima-based media views Humala with fear and loathing. News and current affairs outlets openly warn of his authoritarian tendencies and his "threat to democracy". They reacted with some horror to the perceived subtext of Humala's suggestion that, under his presidency, media would be enlisted as "allies in the battle against corruption".

However, this is all rather counter-productive, as it simply cements the reputation of Humala as an outsider who is distinct from the traditional political class.

Neither the finger-wagging of the Lima elites nor the human rights abuse allegations have defused the visceral response of Humala's supporters, who simply see an underdog that shakes his fist on their behalf at the rich, white, and poweful. His appeal is especially strong with voters who are poor, uneducated, and male.

The 90 Segundos poll found that of those who would vote for Humala, the most popular reason was "because he will address corruption" (29 percent), while all of 1o percent would vote for him simply because he is ex-military.

Alan Garcia

Former president of Peru, 1985-90. Garcia, known to all and sundry in Peru simply as "Alan", is the the leader of the APRA party. Founded in 1924 by Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, APRA is the oldest of the Peruvian parties. Originally Marxist, now turned social democratic, it was periodically banned up until 1979.

When APRA and the fresh-faced, 36 year-old Alan Garcia were elected in the 1985 polls, there was a wave of optimism, and he began his term with the support and hopes of a large proportion of the population.

Instead, his term was an unmitigated debacle, characterized by hyperinflation of a cumulative two million percent, the intensifying of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist insurgency, human rights abuses by the military, a 20 percent fall in Peruvian GDP, and an estimated additional five million Peruvians dropping below the poverty line.

Among other achievements, funding allocated for a desparately needed mass transit system in Lima "disappeared", and the project has only recently recommenced.

Meanwhile, Alan Garcia managed to enrich himself. Some allege that during the 1990 elections he and APRA clandestinely backed Alberto Fujimori in the second round of voting against the first-round winner, author Mario Vargas Llosa, whose party had promised to investigate allegations of corruption against Garcia.

But following Fujimori's auto-coup in 1992, charges were re-opened against Alan Garcia. He escaped to Colombia, where he remained until 2001, when the statute of limitations was deemed to have run out. Forty-eight days after arriving back in Peru, he ran as a candidate in the presidential election, where he won 48% of the vote (Peruvians being tigers for punishment) and was narrowly defeated by Alejandro Toledo.

This time around he has averaged around 21 percent in the polls, consistently in third place, though in a late surge there's a chance he could push Lourdes Flores out of second spot. Most polls show that in a run-off between Humala and Alan Garcia, Humala would win easily.

His greatest claim to fame in recent times was when during a protest march he allegedly kicked the backside of a poor homeless man who got in his way. This was siezed on by many as a truer representative of his personality than his stirring oratory, and "la patada (kick) de Alan" is frequently referred to in discussions of Peruvian politics.

Though the media tends to present him as a failed and petulant buffoon, he is definitely viewed as the lesser of two evils when compared to Humala. Not only is it assumed that he and his party learned their lessons from the disasters of the 80s, but more importantly he is a known quantity, a stable and predictable part of the political establishment.

In my next post, I'll look at the possible influence of the minor candidates, and the legacy of the outgoing president, Alejandro Toledo.

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