Requiem for an old party?

27 February 2016

It is always dangerous to write off a political party, especially in the heat of an election campaign. But Alan García’s lowly ratings in all the main opinion polls suggest that APRA, Peru’s oldest mass-based political party, is reaching a very low point in its political fortunes.

APRA has, of course, come back from the near-dead before. In 2001, following the collapse of the Fujimori regime, García’s return to Peru to fight the elections that year (elections he nearly won) showed remarkable powers of recovery. The party had previously passed through a moribund phase, most notable in the heartland of its traditional support in and around the city of Trujillo.

And in the 2011 elections, following García’s second term as president when its popularity plummeted, its number of members in the Congress elected that year was reduced to four (out of 130). García was constitutionally barred from standing in 2011. Benefitting from the unpopularity of Ollanta Humala, who succeeded him in 2011, the party managed to stage something of a comeback.

In these elections, however, García’s candidacy is not prospering. The most recent polls suggest that no more of 6% of voters are thinking of voting for him. His support appears to diminish in each successive opinion poll.

The reasons for this are not hard to find. Allegations of corruption proliferated during his most recent term in office. The most damaging are those relating to the issue of presidential pardons to large numbers of convicted drug traffickers. Why did García sign those pardons? Many people believe that the most obvious explanation was not humanitarian.

García is, of course, one of Peru’s most savvy politicians. His ability to find a way out of a tight hole should never be underestimated. He also has what remains of APRA as a political machine in his pocket. Until now, APRA has needed García more than García has needed APRA; he has turned the party into his own electoral instrument.

But the García magic seems to be fading, and there appear few figures in the political firmament capable of giving the old party the renewal boost in the way that García was able to do in the early 1980s following the death of Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the party’s founder and leader for the best part of 50 years.

The green light given to the candidacy of Guzmán may come as further bad news for García; he might have benefited somewhat if Guzmán had been forced out of the race. He might also stand to benefit if Acuña is ruled out.

García knew that APRA needed to widen its electoral base if it was to prosper in this year’s elections. However, the alliance he chose seems to have compounded his problems. To link up with Lourdes Flores and the PPC, Peru’s longest-standing explicitly right-wing party, flew in the face of electoral logic. It compounded the view that the so-called Alianza Popular was an alliance of old-timers at a time when the electorate was crying out for new leadership. Popular, it is not.

Political miracles can happen in places like Peru, but it would seem to take a miracle indeed to resuscitate the candidacies of García and Flores to the point where they enter a second round. More likely they will sink further into electoral oblivion, particularly if the alliance fails to pass the 6% of the vote required to maintain its electoral registration.

Ninety years on since the party was founded by Haya de la Torre, never has its future seemed so precarious. As the historian Tony Zapata has pointed out, during this time the party has had no more than two leaders: Haya and García. Haya lived for the party he founded; García appears to live for himself. Those capable of taking over from García and breathing new life into APRA are not immediately apparent.

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