Peru's Presidential Elections: A Choice Between 'Cancer and AIDS'?

01 June 2011

With the second round of presidential elections on June 5, there is little doubt in our mind (as Peru Support Group) which of the two candidate’s policies would be preferable. While some question marks remain over both Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala, by no means is it – as Mario Vargas Llosa described – a contest of equally disagreeable alternatives, a choice between “cancer and AIDS”. Our assessment would instead come closer to that of the following pithy observer who noted: “over Humala we have doubts, but with Keiko we have proof”.

A victory for Keiko Fujimori would mean:

  • The return to positions of political power of the shady Mafiosi who dominated the political scene in the late 1990s. A period made famous for the most brazen acts of corruption in Peruvian history.

  • The likely release from jail of Keiko’s father, Alberto Fujimori, who was condemned to serve a 25-year sentence for grand corruption and violation of human rights.

  • A probable undermining, if not flat-out assault, on the autonomy of the judiciary whose president, César San Martín, presided over the proceedings that sentenced Alberto Fujimori. He has already come under attack from the Fujimorista parliamentary faction.

  • The continuance of an economic model which has privileged business interests over those of most other Peruvians in the last 20 years. Not for nothing has much of the business community backed Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy.

For his part, Humala is certainly not without his negatives. He has been accused of violating human rights in his capacity as a military commander in the war against Sendero Luminoso. His commitment to democracy has also been questioned by his involvement in an attempted putsch against Fujimori at the tail end of his period in government.

However, it seems Humala has come a long way since the 1990s. His ‘plan de gobierno’ or manifesto – portrayed by some commentators as a dangerously radical document – is in essence a plea for a change in economic model to one in which all Peruvians can aspire to share in the benefits of growth. It argues in favour of more (and better) state involvement as the means by which a more equitable society can be created in which the voices of all (not just business interests) are heard. Of course, whether Humala’s somewhat fractious Gana Perú party would actually be able to implement such a reform programme remains debatable.

During the course of the campaign, Humala has already been forced to drop some of his original campaign promises - such as rewriting Fujimori’s 1993 constitution - in order to win support of centrist voters. In the second round he has been able to appeal to people who voted for more centrist candidates, particularly Alejandro Toledo, in the first. Prominent figures from the world of politics, civil society, culture, academia and even religion, have associated themselves with his campaign. Many have done so for fear of what a return to fujimorismo might mean for democratic life in the country. Even Vargas Llosa, not a left-winger by any stretch of the imagination, has had to admit that he intends to vote for Humala.

Humala has gone to great lengths in the campaign so far to distance himself from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, stressing that Peruvians must seek Peruvian answers to Peruvian problems. In 2006 Alan Garcia won the second round presidential elections by successfully depicting Humala as a Chávez clone. This time too, the right-wing press has sought to imitate this line of attack, but the criticism has lacked substance. Rather, Humala is seen by some as adopting a ‘Lula-like’ stance, offering better social conditions without overturning the liberal economy.

The choice facing Peruvian voters on June 5 is thus clear-cut: a vote for an ultra-conservative candidate whose links to the business elite and to nefarious interests were not relinquished when Fujimori was forced out of office in 2000; or a vote for an, admittedly untested, left-of-centre figure who has pledged to offer a fairer deal to those who have found themselves excluded from the pattern of economic growth of recent years.

With both candidates neck and neck in the polls, there is no guarantee that the more palatable alternative will prevail.

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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.

  • Historical Overview

    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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