For various reasons (Master's thesis, Aconcagua, travelling in Peru away from internet access, many things to do on arrival back to New Zealand), I haven't done any blog posts on the Peruvian presidential and congressional elections, which took place on Sunday 10 April local time. The line up of candidates made as much, if not more of a soap opera story as it did in 2006. The lead up had even more twists and turns, as right until the end there were five candidates with possibilities of making it through to the second round of voting.
In the end, the result of the first round has meant a rather different scenario than the last elections. As he did in 2006, Nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala headed the initial vote. Coming from seeming irrelevance only a couple of months ago when he was polling below 10 percent, Humala won around 32 percent of the vote, almost identical to his numbers five years ago.
However, this time there's not going to be a solid alliance of the "democratic" establishment against "authoritarian" Humala of the sort which benefited Alan Garcia in 2006. This is because Humala's opponent in the second round will be Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the currently imprisoned ex-dictator, who in her campaign has frequently referred back to what "we" did in the 1990s. As La Republica columnist Mirko Lauer puts it:
In addition, if it's about a competition between two political chambers of horrors, the phrase used by political scientist Steven Levitsky is eloquent: "you can have doubts about Ollanta but about Keiko we've got proof"
The success of Humala and Fujimori sends a clear message. The establishment candidates -- 2001--2006 president Alejandro Toledo, former Lima mayor Luis Castañeda and one-time Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuzcysnzki (PPK) -- eventually obtained less than 45 percent of the vote between them. It's not quite true, as is being portrayed in some places, that Peruvians abandoned the centre and chose contrasting "extremes". Despite being placed on the far right, Fujimori shares a similar economic approach with the other three candidates -- with PPK probably the purest neoliberal -- while Humala is hardly "leftist" in any coherent sense. What these two have in common is their populism, and the perception that in some sense they are outsiders. Their strong showing amounts to a rejection of continuismo and disagreement with the establishment argument that staying with Peru's current economic and political track will eventually be good for everyone.
Since the last election, Humala has gone a considerable way towards moderating his image. He's been dressing smarter, got a team of Brazilian advisors to give his policies an aura of Lula-ness, and avoided the association with Hugo Chavez that Alan Garcia took such advantage of last time. Already, the sort of people who pegged their noses and reluctantly voted for Garcia are wondering whether he might be the least worst option. Mario Vargas Llosa, for example, has said that he "could" vote for Humala, depending on the kind of alliances he forms, but could never vote for Fujmori. In another post, I'll give my own opinion.