Editorial: Towards a Festival of Democracy?

Update 139. April / May 2010

Thirty years after Peru held its first democratic elections, following 12 years of military rule, the country is gearing up for the latest round of electoral contests: municipal and regional elections in October, followed by presidential and congressional elections next April.

It should be the opportunity for government to reconnect with the voters; but the latter are notoriously disillusioned by the low quality of democratic politics in Peru. Time and time again, the Latinobarómetro (a compendium of opinion polls across the whole of Latin America) puts Peru at the bottom of its list of countries when it comes to expressing faith in democratic institutions.

Still, this will probably deter neither the voters, nor the mass of wannabes who aspire to political power, whether at national, regional, provincial or district level. Not only do elections provide the opportunity to represent, but they also - unfortunately - provide rich pickings for personal advancement and enrichment. Thirty years of 'democracy' do not seem to have improved matters much in this respect.

For many observers, the regional elections in October provide a sort of dress rehearsal for the subsequent national elections. The various contenders will be able to read the tea-leaves from October and adjust their campaign strategies accordingly.

However, the most likely result of these will be a rebuff to national politicians and their parties. As in the regional elections of 2006, voters outside Lima will vote primarily for local parties that claim to represent local interests (as opposed to those of the capital and its elites). National parties - particularly the ruling APRA party - are likely to get hammered. Only in Lima, where Lourdes Flores - the erstwhile leader of the conservative Partido Popular Cristiano (PPC) - stands a good chance of being elected mayor, will national parties count for much.

So it may be difficult to read too much into these results in trying to guess who will replace Alan García as president on July 28 next year. There is no shortage of candidates, and they are mostly well-known figures: Luis Castañeda Lossio, the present mayor of Lima; Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori; Alejandro Toledo, a former president himself and García's predecessor in the job; Ollanta Humala, the ultimately unsuccessful candidate who attracted most votes in the first round of the last presidential elections; the former prime minister Yehude Simón; another former prime minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. And the list goes on…

None of the candidates really distinguish themselves ideologically from one another. They mostly hail from the centre-right and defend the sort of neo-liberal policies that have characterised successive governments for the last 20 years. The main exception here is Humala, a nationalist who attacks neo-liberalism and wants to detach Peru from its present pro-US stance. In 2006, he fell prey to accusations, voiced most loudly by García, of being in hock to Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez.

But whatever the outcome of all this electoral activity - and at the risk of sounding excessively negative - one is left wondering whether Peru will emerge with its democratic institutions strengthened, or whether there will simply be another set of politicians elected, each with their own fish to fry and/or their own noses in the trough.

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  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

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    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

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