Guzmán: the insider outsider

7 February 2016

The novelty of the election campaign over the last seven days has been, without doubt, the figure of Julio Guzmán. In an opinion poll conducted by GfK for the La República newspaper and revealed on the evening of 31 January, Guzmán saw a dramatic increase in his popularity. In a single month, he jumped from 2% in voters’ ranking of preference to 10.4%.

This sudden rise to prominence has triggered a number of attacks. He has been accused of being a ‘mole’ for the first lady, Nadine Heredia, her hidden candidate of choice. A number of photographs of him attending an event she organised last week have surfaced in social media. The brand of the incumbent has become so toxic, it would seem, that some seem to believe this is the best way to put paid to Guzmán’s surge in the polls.

Possibly more threatening to his electoral possibilities has been the decision by the Registry of Political Organisations (ROP), which comes under the National Electoral Jury (JNE), to declare invalid Guzmán’s presidential bid on the ground of his alleged failure to meet prescribed deadlines. He is to appeal. Meanwhile he took his protest to the street on 5 February. He claims that the ROP decision was wrong and that there was no error in the way he was selected as presidential candidate.

If the GfK poll is borne out by others (a single poll needs to be corroborated) Guzmán has entered the ‘mid-league’ of the 19 presidential aspirants, putting him more or less neck-and-neck with César Acuña and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Guzmán, a technocrat with a background in government, is often seen as a younger version of Kuzcynski, and more authentically Peruvian. He has been repeatedly identified as the possible ‘dark horse’ in these elections, the insiders’ ‘outsider’ whose appeal has been to challenge the ‘dinosaurs’ of Peruvian politics.

Irrespective of the ROP charges, it is unclear whether Guzmán will have the staying power to keep himself in the electoral limelight. Running a presidential campaign is an extremely costly business, and he may lack the deep pockets of both Kuczynski and Acuña. He may also have peaked too soon: suddenly perceived as a threat by his closest rivals, he has already become the target for negative campaigning. The election is still more than two months away, and a lot of blood can be spilled between now and then.

Also (again according to GfK) Guzmán’s support is relatively scant among the poorest sectors of Peruvian voters (socioeconomic groups D and E) in which Acuña (and of course Keiko Fujimori) have a strong advantage. Together, these groups make up around 60% of the voting public.

The ROP’s decision to impugn Guzmán’s candidacy could have consequences in other ways. The National Jury of Elections (JNE) has the last word when it comes to judgements of this sort. To invalidate Guzmán threatens to turn him into an electoral martyr, enhancing his popularity as someone challenging the system and its institutions. However to overrule the ROP’s decision would make this electoral body look incompetent in the exercise of its duties, and (if it is clear that the deadline was missed) it will show the JNE as malleable to political pressures.

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