Monday, June 06, 2011

Exit Polls Showing Humala Win: Reuters Grumpy

Slightly behind in most opinion polls until a couple of days ago, Ollanta Humala appears to be holding a roughly 4 percentage point lead over Keiko Fujimori in exit polls following today's presidential runoff in Peru.

The elections have even made top spot on Stuff's World News page. But let's look at some of the subtle inaccuracies and biases in the Reuters article pasted there.

Humala, 48, has moderated his anti-capitalist views since narrowly losing the 2006 election, and most polls in the run up to the vote had the two candidates in a statistical tie.

Humala was never an anti-capitalist. His 2006 platform had a strong nationalist emphasis, with favourable references to the State-led capitalism of Juan Velasco Alvarado, but I doubt there was ever the slightest mention of Marx.

The elder Fujimori also defeated a Maoist rebel army but fled into exile in 2000 as his government was hit by corruption allegations, and he is now serving a 25-year prison sentence for graft and using death squads against suspected leftists.

Did Fujimori defeat a Maoist rebel army (the Shining Path)? That's what his apologists like to say, but the truth is that it was ingenious police work that tracked down the Lima hiding place of leader Abimael Guzman, after which the Shining Path promptly belied its supposed anti-individualist Maoism and to all intents and purposes, collapsed.

"Corruption allegations" is interesting shorthand for "leaked videos showing incidents of blatant and undeniable corruption for all the world to see".

Still, investors are wary of Humala. Peru's currency and stock market weakened whenever opinion polls showed him gaining ground. The stock market lost $14 billion in the weeks after Humala won the first-round vote, before recovering as Fujimori caught up with him in polls.

If the election is too close to call, there will be a recount, causing even more market volatility.

A paragraph on the stockmarket. Not until late in the article, in a sentence tag-on, is it mentioned that despite the "booming economy", 35 percent of Peruvians still live in poverty.

He promises to respect Peru's many free trade pacts and central bank independence, and to run a balanced budget. But he also favors policies that would increase state control over natural resources in one of the world's top mineral exporters.

For context, it could be mentioned that Peru has the least state control over natural resources of any large Latin American country, particularly compared with "free-market" Chile, where 60 percent a significant proportion of copper production is controlled by the State. An alternative -- and possibly more accurate -- sentence could read: "Humala promises to impose windfall taxes on mining companies that have benefited from unprecedented rises in mineral prices".

Critics say Humala has not abandoned the hard-line ideology instilled in him by his father, a prominent radical. They warn he would take over private firms and change the constitution to allow himself to run for consecutive terms like his one-time political mentor, Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez.

Who are these critics? Do they have any credibility? Should the article not mention that Humala has disavowed these claims?

"Humala's policies are statist and totalitarian," said Rosa Tolentina, a 60-year-old housewife in Lima. "We're going to end up like Venezuela: without freedoms, and poor."

Well yes, it's understandable that a housewife would say something like this, given what the corporate media have been saying. But again, is this credible? Is this an appropriate, balanced way to finish the article?

Finally: nowhere is there mention of facts that would appear to be of interest to an international audience, such as that prominent centre-right democrats including Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa, his son Alvaro Vargas Llosa, and former president and first-round presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo have all endorsed Humala.

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