Friday, April 28, 2006

Then There Were Two

The second round of voting in the Peruvian presidential elections is now almost certain to pit Alan Garcia against Ollanta Humala. Lourdes Flores' Unidad Nacional party hasn't yet given up, and are contesting the legitimacy of votes from some polling stations, but with all votes counted Lourdes is 0.6 percent, or 60,000 votes, behind Alan.

The two remaining candidates have already made proxy starts to their second-round campaigns, each making visits to the other's stronghold. Alan visited Puno, a region which voted heavily for Humala, while Ollanta appeared in Trujillo, the traditional base of support for Alan Garcia's party APRA.

At present, almost nobody is willing to predict the outcome of the second round, largely because, of the 45 percent of Peruvians who didn't vote for either Alan or Ollanta, many would be loathe to support wither candidate.

For all that Humala is feared for his authoritarian tendencies, there are a lot of people who could never bring themselves to back Alan after his disastrous first presidency. My friends Hugo and Lizbeth are an example. They both voted Lourdes in the first round, but, though they don't have much confidence in what an Humala presidency would mean for tourism, they will be voting for Ollanta in the second round. "We can't stand Alan", they both said. Among other things, they blame him for terrorism getting out of hand in the late 80s.

Another friend of mine and her cousin are taking a different strategy. "Word is that Alan is likely to win", she told me. "If so, they say APRA party members will probably get good jobs. So we've joined the party and signed up to be election observers for the second round. Though of course we aren't apristas - we both voted Lourdes".

Author Mario Vargas Llosa - who really should decide whether he's going to be a public intellectual or a politician - announced his opinion that Unidad Nacional and APRA should form a "democratic alliance" to keep out the authoritarian Ollanta Humala. This would effectively mean handing Lourdes' votes to Alan.

Most commentators think this is a silly strategy that would likely backfire. On the one hand, it would strengthen Humala's battling outsider status. On the other, it does look rather like an attempt at majoritarian strategy to continue the exclusion of the marginalized 30 percent of the population whose vote for Ollanta was more than anything a cry of protest at the status quo. And most simply, it's not exactly in the best interests of democracy to tell people how to vote.

Meanwhile, international figures continue to stick their beaks into Peru's domestic politics. Bolivian president Evo Morales recently called current Peruvian leader Alejandro Toledo "a traitor" to Andean solidarity for his decision to sign a free trade agreement with the US (it still has to be ratified by Congress in both countries).

Toledo responded that Morales' compadre Hugo Chavez himself had betrayed his avowed "Bolivarian" ideals of Andean integration by retiring Venezuela from the Comunidad Andina (CAN) alliance, a move which looks to be matched by Morales and Bolivia.

Yesterday in a press conference Chavez himself had his say. He blamed Colombia and Peru for the erosion of CAN because they had signed free trade agreements with the US. To continue in CAN would allow "susbsidised American goods" into Venezuela through the back door. "Unless", said Chavez, "the next president of Peru - and let's hope that's Ollanta Humala - throws out the free trade agreement".

Chavez had a parting shot for Lourdes Flores. "The candidate who made the free trade agreement a platform of her campaign is now on the sidelines", he said. "Well, Doña Lourdes - five more years".

It remains to be seen what effect this sniping from foreign leaders will have on the Peruvian campaign. Perhaps it will give Ollanta Humala a boost. Or maybe Peruvians will actually summon some of their famed patriotism and decide that no one foreign - be they American or Venezuelan - will tell them how to vote.

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