Editorial: Towards Elections - Neoliberalism or Neoliberalism?
Update 138. February / March 2010
In just over a year's time, Peruvians will be going to the polls to elect a new president and Congress. At this point, it is impossible to know who will win. There will probably be a proliferation of candidates for president; the allure of office (and all that goes with it) provides a powerful attraction to members of the political class and even those outside it.
It is therefore most unlikely that one candidate will win on the first round; to do so means attracting 50% plus one of valid votes. A second round will therefore probably be needed, with the two most-voted candidates from the first round slogging it out between them.
If previous elections provide any guide, those that enter the election contest with an advantage in the opinion polls are not necessarily those who become the country's next president.
In spite of the multiplicity of candidates, Peruvians are likely to be offered two basic options: continuation of the neoliberal and pro-US policies that have typified the last ten years, or a more interventionist and nationalist alternative.
Several candidates are likely to espouse the former in one way or another. At the moment, it would seem that one of the best-placed is Luis Castañeda Lossio, the present mayor of Lima who will step down in October. Already we have seen how Lourdes Flores, candidate for the pro-business Unidad Nacional (UN) in 2001 and 2006, has opted to run to replace Castañeda in the October municipal elections, opening the way for him to run for president. Other would-be candidates, like former president Alejandro Toledo, may also step aside.
We do not know for sure who will run for APRA, today's ruling party. The party's 23rd national congress, held at the beginning of March, showed Alan García (who cannot run for president in 2011) to be still very much in control. APRA will probably want to field it own candidate, but García's neoliberal leanings are not dissimilar from Castañeda's. APRA still has something of an organised social base, and it will most likely do García's bidding.
The position of Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, is more ambivalent. Her pro-business leanings are not in doubt, but her political views are illiberal. She will focus her attention on those nostalgic for the days of her father's rule.
On the other side are the candidates of the left who will campaign denouncing the effects of neoliberalism and how this has benefitted a small elite at the expense of the rest of the population. Many Peruvians feel they have received scant benefit from the high growth rates of the last few years; they also feel disconcerted by the way in which Peru's supposedly democratic political institutions operate to the advantage of the rich and powerful.
Ollanta Humala is preparing his second assault on the presidency, having won more votes than any other candidate in the first round in 2006 but then losing out to García in the second. Humala appeals directly to the malcontents in Peruvian society. His support is concentrated in the southern highlands and in the Amazon jungle where most of Peru's poverty is found. Though he has not proved to be a very successful 'leader of the opposition' to the García government since 2006, his support should not be underestimated.
Competing with Humala for support on the left will be Marco Arana. Arana has emerged to prominence as a bitter critic of mining companies in his native Cajamarca. He will claim to represent the authentic left, criticising Humala for his nationalist and pro-military leanings. His campaign has not got off to a very strong start, and other candidates on the left could still emerge.
Whether a second round will provide a straight choice between left and right is not at all clear. What is clear - and it is a cause for concern - is García's stated determination that the Humala will not win. He has told businessmen in no uncertain terms that he will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that Humala is not the next occupant of the presidential palace. Is the election therefore to be a choice between neoliberalism 'yes or yes'?