Election Special Newsletter

30 March 2016


Since restoring democratic government in 2001, Peru has seen four presidential and congressional election contests, the latest of which takes place on 10 April. Four successive elections represent a first in Peru’s republican history, dominated as it has been by military and/or authoritarian governments, and/or ones elected on a very restrictive franchise. This is a success for democracy.

The present contest, however – which will conclude with the swearing in of a new president on 28 July – has proved unusually turbulent and fractious, in part because of changes to the Law on Political Parties which took effect after the elections were officially convened. For the first time, the role of the electoral authorities, and in particular the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) has been seriously questioned.

In early March, with less than a month to go to polling day, the JNE obliged two leading candidates to withdraw from the race on account of (arguably) minor infringement to the rules: Julio Guzmán of the Todos para Perú (TPP) party and César Acuña of the Alianza para el Progreso (APP). Guzmán was held to be guilty of failing to comply with the precise rules by which parties select their candidates; Acuña for giving out gifts to potential voters at a campaign meeting. Both candidates, together, accounted for well over 20% of voting intentions (as measured by opinion polls at the time of their expulsion from the race).

Days after the JNE’s decisions on Guzmán and Acuña, complaints were registered about Keiko Fujimori, the front-runner, allegedly giving gifts to would-be followers at an election meeting. In her case, the JNE absolved her from responsibility. This opened up the court to the charge of treating different candidates differently; Fujimori was seen to have committed the same misdemeanour as Acuña. Consequently, the JNE was held to have acted with impropriety, if not favouritism.

The election also has attracted more candidates than ever before, many belonging to ad hoc parties and groupings with little or no organised base in society. At the outset of campaigning, there were 19 presidential candidates, belonging to the same number of parties, each presenting lists of candidates for the 130 seats in the single-chamber parliament. Some have fallen by the wayside. Apart from Guzmán and Acuña, Daniel Urresti was de-selected by the Partido Nacionalista Peruano (PNP), the party of President Ollanta Humala. A number of congressional candidates have also been barred for failing to comply with the electoral rules.

The task of running the elections was further complicated by the changes introduced to the Political Party Law in December 2015. These were passed by Congress in spite of the campaign having already begun and notwithstanding a presidential veto (which was subsequently overridden by the legislature in which the largest party was the pro-Fujimori Fuerza Popular). The practice of giving out gifts at party meetings was penalised only under this new law.

The campaign has been characterised by extreme volatility in public support for different candidates, with a large mass of undecided voters right up until the very end. With two weeks to go, it seemed probable that no one candidate would win the 50% plus one of valid votes needed to win on the first round. The date of a second round has been pencilled in for 5 June between the two front-runners. Assuming that a second round takes place and depending on who goes through, the likely pattern of voting in a second round could be very tight (as it was in 2011).


Candidates and parties (in order of voting intentions according to Ipsos)

Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular). Defeated in 2011 by incumbent Ollanta Humala, the former first lady during her father’s regime and former representative in Congress has continued to poll at around 30% ever since the start of the campaign. She has lost some support in the past weeks, and opposition to her father’s regime has cost her. Still, she is the candidate to beat. As of the end of March, she still risked being excluded from the race due to accusations of giving out money at a campaign rally. This was a similar accusation to the one that derailed the candidacy of César Acuña. Consequently, many Peruvians consider that the electoral authorities have failed to apply the rules equitably and that she should have been excluded. The climate of anti-fujimorista anger has increased in the final weeks of the campaign with street protests in several cities. In Cuzco, protests in the main square forced Keiko to suspend a campaign meeting. A large rally was being organised for 5 April, on the 24th anniversary of her father’s autogolpe. Her support comes from both popular sectors as well as from those elites which remember her father’s regime fondly. They consider that Fujimori successfully vanquished terrorism and hyperinflation and that the corruption and human rights abuses committed were errors that did not invalidate such achievements. The Sunday Times ran a story on 27 March describing her candidacy as supported by drug traffickers, with candidates running for Congress being investigated for illicit enrichment or links to the cocaine trade. Her role in the forced sterilisations of the 1990s is also a stain on her reputation. In spite of such issues and the many unresolved questions over her campaign finances, she will go through to the second round and stands a very good chance of being elected Peru’s next president.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Peruanos por el Kambio). PPK (as he is generally known) is a career politician, economist and former international banker who held his first ministerial post in 1968 and his most recent, as finance minister, during the presidency of Alejandro Toledo (2001-06). In 2011 he failed to make the second round of presidential elections, but during the present campaign he has occupied second place for several weeks, currently polling at around 15%. His chances of reaching the second round improved with the exclusion of Julio Guzmán and César Acuña. If he manages to make it into the second round, polls suggest he would stand a good chance of beating Keiko Fujimori in the run-off. PPK is seen as a technocrat and an expert economist who would continue with the existing economic model but without the problems associated with a return to fujimorismo. Some view his opposition to fujimorismo with some scepticism since he endorsed Keiko Fujimori in the second round in 2011. Others consider him a lobbyist with close ties to oil and gas interests in the United States. His support comes from the right and the centre, especially in Lima. Some analysts consider that his candidacy has little space for further growth, and he is coming under pressure from those who see Barnechea as an alternative centre-right candidate.

Verónika Mendoza (Frente Amplio). She is a congresswoman from Cuzco elected in 2011 for Humala’s Partido Nacionalista (PNP). She parted company with Humala early on in his presidency and has taken up the mantle of the left. She has campaigned tirelessly with a very small budget, and has managed to increase her voting intention in the polls from less than 2% to 12% in the last six weeks. She has also benefitted from Guzmán’s and Acuña’s exclusion, and currently leads the polls in southern Peru and in some other rural areas. As her voting intentions have increased, so have smear campaigns alleging her to be the candidate of the incumbent government, to be a supporter of the Venezuelan government or even to be a ‘terrorist’. Although conservatives fear she may finally make it into the second round, the growth in her support appears to have slowed.

Alfredo Barnechea (Acción Popular). He is a journalist and writer who is running as the ‘invited’ candidate of Acción Popular, a party with a long tradition in Peru. Support for his candidacy has grown rapidly in recent weeks, helped too by the exclusion of Guzmán and Acuña. Currently polling at 11%, he is also has a chance of reaching the second round. He is criticised as being a member of the elite who refuses to don local-style hats and eat foodstuffs from street vendors. But his support has risen because he has espoused social democratic values and claims he would renegotiate existing gas contracts and would seek to strengthen the state. He has pursued an erratic political career, having previously been a member of Congress and mayoral candidate for APRA in the 1980s. Now with Acción Popular, he tends to attract the vote of those who do not want to maintain the liberal economic model as it is, but fear a move to the left.

Alan García (Alianza Popular). Twice president of Peru (1985-90 and 2006-11), García is most unlikely to reach the second round. Polling at around 7%, he seems a spent force. The alliance between his APRA and the right-wing Catholic Partido Popular Cristiano (PPC) has done nothing to promote his ambition to become president for a third time The public seems to have lost interest in his campaign. Having ruled in the 1980s from the left, and in the 2000s from the right, he appear to have lost the political compass that used the characterise him. Most people remember his second term less for economic growth than for the presidential pardons he gave drug dealers. He has so far failed to shake off this shady reputation.


Key Campaign Issues

The weight of history. This has been stronger than usual in this campaign. For many, the election is a referendum about the virtues (or otherwise) of fujimorismo. The legacy of Alberto Fujimori’s regime still manages to split the country in half. But it is also a referendum over the role of the left. For many the left is still a political option identified with failure, whether under the military government of General Velasco Alvarado in the 1970s or the first García government in the 1980s. The incumbent government of Ollanta Humala is also viewed by some as a government of the left. For their part, Kuczynski and Barnechea are not as closely identified either with the right or the left and, as such, do not carry such strong historical baggage as do Mendoza and Keiko Fujimori.

Economic policy. This is among the most important issues. Barnechea and Mendoza have promised to renegotiate gas contracts and both advocate greater state intervention. Despite differences of degree, both want to see the economic model rebalanced. On the other hand, both Kuczynski and Fujimori promise to uphold the liberal economic model, even if the latter might be more of a populist and the former more interested in promoting growth. In the past, voters have been swayed more by the promises of the left, although winning candidates have seldom honoured such promises. This might give an edge to Barnechea and Mendoza in the last days of first-round campaigning, but it may equally be the case that voters have grown more conservative. It remains to be seen.

Illicit trading and citizen security. Cocaine trafficking is probably the best known of the illicit economies that prosper in Peru, but it is by no means the only one. Gold, silver and timber are also traded illegally and there is a widespread concern that if the state fails to control these, problems of citizen security will become ever worse. Fujimori’s party is probably the one closest to the cocaine trade, but there are many other candidates, especially for Congress, that receive funds from traffickers not just of drugs but of these other commodities.


Electoral authorities

Peru’s electoral system involves three separate institutions.

  • The Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) is the lead organisation which has judicial functions in making judgements in the event of disputes and complaints. Under the JNE are a number of special decentralised courts charged with resolving disputes at the regional level. The Jurado Electoral Especial (JEE) Lima 1 is the court which judges national-level issues in the first instance.

  • The Organización Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE) is charged with all aspects of electoral administration, reporting election results to the JNE. There are also decentralised institutions at the regional level, the so-called ODPEs.

  • Finally, the Registro Nacional de Identificación y Estado Civil (RENIEC) is the organisation in charge of maintaining and updating the voting register.

Until the 1993 constitution came into force, all aspects of electoral management came under the JNE as a single institution.


Presidential elections

First-round presidential elections take place simultaneously with those for the new Congress. These will take place on 10 April. To avoid a second round, the leading candidate has to achieve an absolute majority of votes (50% plus one). The majority is calculated as a proportion of ‘valid’ votes; this means subtracting from the total votes cast those voting slips that a null or void. Since voting in both presidential and legislative elections is mandatory in Peru, the proportion of votes cast in relation to those eligible to votes is generally fairly small.

Where no presidential candidate receives an absolute majority of valid votes, a second round is held – normally about two months after the first. This is between the two candidates who receive most votes in the first round. The fairly lengthy second round means, in practice, a separate election, in which the issues can be very different from the first. It is not uncommon for the front-runner in the first round not to win the second. The only times in recent memory when a second round was not held was in 1985 (when García was elected for the first time) and 1995 (when Alberto Fujimori was re-elected).

The winning candidate from the second round (if one is needed) is inaugurated president on 28 July, national Independence Day, and serves for five years.

The most recent elected presidents have been Alejandro Toledo (2001), Alan García (2006) and Ollanta Humala (2011), all on a second round.


Legislative elections

These are held at the same time as the first round of presidential elections, but there is no second round as in presidential elections. They are based on a closed list system in which voters select the candidates of their choice from a list pertaining to one party or another. Since 2001, the lists are organised on a regional basis, with voters only voting for candidates that represent their region. Peru is divided into 25 regions. Since the capital is home to around one third of the electorate, the number of legislators representing Lima is proportionately higher than other parts of the country.

The 2011 legislative elections produced the following distribution of seats, though this changed subsequently over the last five years, because of resignations and legislators jumping ship between parties: Gana Perú coalition (Ollanta Humala) 47 seats; Fuerza Popular (Keiko Fujimori) 37 seats; Perú Posible (Alejandro Toledo) 21 seats; Alianza para el Gran Cambio (Pedro Pablo Kuczynski) 12 seats; Solidaridad Nacional (Castañeda) 9 seats; and APRA (no presidential candidate) 4 seats.

On the basis of opinion polls, no one party is likely to gain an absolute majority of seats in the new Congress, though Fuerza Popular is likely to win more seats than any other party.


The party system

Peru has a notoriously weak party system. The 2003 Law on Political Parties sought to strengthen the party system by encouraging the emergence of a few, socially-grounded, transparently-financed and democratically-organised parties. It failed completely in this purpose. Peru’s older established parties, like APRA and the PPC, appear to be ever further from the mainstream. Most of the 19 parties that registered for this year’s elections are simply vehicles for their leaders’ political ambitions; they have no real organisation in Peru as a whole. Their finances are not transparent and their procedures for electing their leaders (with one or two exceptions) are hardly open and participative. Opinion polls attest to the unpopularity of parties and their leaders and – indeed – to a distrust in democratic institutions more generally.

In order to weed out smaller, less representative parties, up to now these have had to win in excess of 5% if they were to maintain their official registration for the subsequent election. The changes to the Law on Political Parties, passed in December, mean that parties that do not present candidates in one election do not automatically lose their registration for the next. They also raise the threshold for party alliances by one percentage point for every extra member of an alliance. These changes mid-way through a campaign were criticised by electoral experts, in particular because the detailed regulations to the new legislation have still not been published.


Opinion polls

In all electoral campaigns, opinion polling has become an essential ingredient, whether we speak of the United States, the United Kingdom or Peru. Not only do polls reflect (or not) the state of public opinion, but they become instruments used by political contenders to shift public opinion in their favour. What the pollsters say can have a strong influence over electoral outcomes.

In Peru, most polling firms have a reasonable record in reflecting the state of political opinion in advance of electoral contests. Though it is difficult (and costly) to conduct polling in remote rural areas, far from the main urban centres, the four main polling agencies – Ipsos, GfK, Datum and CPI – manage (more or less) to cover the state of public opinion across the country.

There only a few polls which produce results that are radically divergent from the main trends of the others, like the polling agency used in this election by Alan García that shows he is running in second place and stands a real chance of winning the presidential elections. The results are so discordant from the others that no-one takes them seriously.

But clearly, the messages implicit in the polls and the trends they reflect are of key interest to the main contenders. Particularly in a country where political loyalties are extremely weak and people vote for personalities rather than for ideologies, the message of who is rising and who is falling in the polls is akin to a horse race in which the betting continues while the race is taking place.

To be rising in the last few weeks of a campaign – as has been the case of Alfredo Barnechea and Verónika Mendoza – is palpably good news for such candidates, whereas to be falling in the polls is extremely bad news as it is difficult to reverse the impression that such a candidate is a ‘loser’ and on a hiding to nothing.


Voting intentions

According to Ipsos, the voting intentions for the front-running candidates (as of 20 March) have varied as follows since the beginning of the campaign:

  • Fujimori’s vote has remained remarkably stable. At the beginning of the campaign (in October 2015) it stood at 35%, falling to a low of 30% in February and then recovering somewhat to 31% on 20 March.

  • Kuzcynski’s voting intentions have been rather more volatile. He started in October on 14%, rising to 16% in November and December, falling to a low of 9% in February and then recovering (after Guzmán and Acuña’s exit to 15% on 20 March.

  • Barnechea and Mendoza have followed very similar paths. They started the campaign on 1% and 2% respectively, with both accelerating rapidly after the withdrawal of Guzmán and Acuña. On 20 March, they stood at 12% each.

  • García has been on a downward slide since the beginning. In October, he was in third place on 11%. By 20 March, he was on 6% in fifth place.

Thanks to Paulo Drinot (Institute of the Americas, UCL) for insights from his talk on 22 March 2016 to the parliamentary APPG on  Latin America.

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