Acuña and Guzmán: victims of the ides of March

13 March 2016

Last week’s decision by the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) to exclude two candidates – both with a respectable proportion of voting preferences in opinion polls – casts a shadow over the electoral process with less than a month to go before the first round on 10 April. The JNE, responding to appeals against rulings by a lower-ranking electoral tribunal, opted to bar both Julio Guzmán and César Acuña from the presidential race.

Both candidates have responded by challenging the appeal verdict against them by launching extraordinary appeals to the JNE. These were likely to be heard on 13 March. Guzmán also has appealed to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, part of the Organisation of American States (OAS). A delegation from the OAS is due to arrive in Lima on 14 March.

In Guzmán’s case, the JNE voted three-to-two to exclude him on account of administrative irregularities in the procedure by which he was selected as candidate for his Todos Por el Perú (TPP) party. He has argued that this is unfair, and that this is the first time that the JNE has taken such drastic action for a minor offence. He has suggested that it will undermine the legitimacy of the final result. Others too point in this direction: it’s not a question of whether the elections have lost legitimacy but the extent to which this is the case.

The most recent opinion polls put Guzmán as second to Keiko Fujimori in voting intentions and the only candidate with a chance of beating Fujimori in a second round.

In the case of Acuña, the JNE voted unanimously to exclude him. He was accused of having distributed cash to potential voters at an electoral meeting in Chosica, on the outskirts of Lima. Guzmán has made the point that other candidates are also guilty of distributing gifts to voters, notably Keiko Fujimori (see PSG article). He is basing his appeal on the argument that the changes to the Political Parties Law which outlaw making gifts to electors were introduced in December, well after the official inauguration of the campaign.

It is noteworthy that both candidates have been cautious in the way they have responded, resisting the temptation to take their frustration to the streets and to organise marches and demonstrations in protest at the decisions. While the chances of reversing the JNE’s decision on appeal may be slight, both may have their eyes on being candidates again in 2021.

Still, it is unprecedented that the JNE has resorted to barring presidential candidates in this way. It raises speculation about the jury’s neutrality and whether other candidates are behind the attempt to block rivals at this late stage in the contest.

Who stands to benefit? Two opinion polls (GfK and Datum), both conducted before the JNE’s decision but anticipating it, suggested that Keiko Fujimori will pick-up more support, especially in the south where Guzmán was polling strongly. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is also likely to gain, helping him to reverse his fall in recent polls; he is the candidate who most closely replicates Guzmán’s ‘technocratic’ pro-business image.

Two other candidates of the also-rans may benefit: Acción Popular’s Alfredo Barnechea and the Frente Amplio’s Verónika Mendoza. Though neither are exactly ‘outsiders’, they are both relatively fresh faces in presidential politics. Barnechea is a centrist, while Mendoza is the only viable left-wing candidate in the race. Interestingly, neither of the two ex-presidents running (Alan García and Alejandro Toledo) are thought likely in the polls to benefit much from the exit of Guzmán and Acuña.

An Ipsos poll, published in El Comercio on 13 March, suggested that (assuming Guzmán and Acuña withdraw) Fujimori leads with 32% of preferences, followed by Kuczynski on 14%, with both Barnechea and Mendoza equal on 9%. García was in fifth place with 6%.

The electorate seems keen to support the candidacy of those who are not seen as part of the political establishment and who are not tainted by accusations of corruption. Political preferences are likely to remain very volatile in what remains of the first round.

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