Electoral tea-leaves

18 October 2014

It’s a year and a half to the next presidential elections. Though this may sound a long time in Peruvian politics, the main political actors are now moving into gear for the big fight in 2016, now that the municipal and regional elections are over.

The two big electoral heavy weights are Alan Garcia and Keiko Fujimori. Though the opinion polls suggest that Keiko is far ahead of Alan in terms of voter preferences, this is no guide whatsoever as to what may actually happen.

Fujimori’s objective is to reverse the narrow defeat inflicted on her in 2011 by her rival in the second round, Ollanta Humala. Though the Fuerza Popular that she leads has serious internal divisions – between her supporters and those of the more authoritarian demeanour that surround her brother (and father) – these are likely to diminish as election day approaches.

Keiko leaves little doubt as to her ambition to be president. In spite of the years that have passed since Alberto Fujimori’s impromptu resignation in November 2000 and the fact that he is in jail serving a lengthy sentence for human rights crimes and corruption, Fujimorismo has remained a live force in Peruvian politics. Many people think he is imprisoned unfairly and that his government (1990-2000) did much to resolve the problems of hyper-violence and hyperinflation left to him by Alan Garcia’s first administration (1985-90).

Fuerza Popular is an amorphous movement, guided by autocratic (if not authoritarian) principles. It is safe to assume that among its first moves (if Keiko ever makes it to the presidency) would be to pardon her father and free him from jail. Beyond that it would be an enthusiastic supporter of freewheeling capitalism and an assertive repressor of anything that smells left-wing. Some would say it represents the closest thing to fascism to emerge from Peru in recent times.

For his part, Alan Garcia makes no bones about his ambition to return to office for a third term; he would be the first Peruvian in recent memory to do so. Known for his ‘colossal ego’, he is unlikely to let a few unfavourable opinion polls diminish his ardour. Now, with Luis Castañeda Lossio safely installed as mayor of Lima, García – who supported Castañeda at the expense of his own party’s candidate – will argue that it is payback time. He also appears to be making approaches to the centre-right Partido Popular Cristiano (PPC) to entice this party into some sort of pre-electoral pact. He may also have some success in appealing to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, another presidential aspirant, to join in an anti-Fujimori alliance.

The system of two rounds of presidential voting encourages candidates and their parties to stand alone in the first round (on which congressional representation depends). However, the greater the proliferation of candidates, the less certain it becomes who will make it to the second round. Unless Garcia can stitch up an alliance for the first round, he runs the risk of not making it to the second.

What would a third García administration do? Probably much the same as his second one: seek to encourage the sale of concessions to extract natural resources. It would certainly not be a return to García mark-one, an experiment in heterodox economics that went disastrously wrong.

García is an artful political tactician and a good communicator. He will probably be supported by those sectors of the business community which fear the sort of confrontational politics that a Fujimori-led government would imply; he would not therefore lack for money. Although APRA is a much diminished force, it also provides some sort of structure on which to build a campaign. APRA without García is nothing.

And what of the left? The humiliating blow inflicted on Susana Villarán (she came third in the Lima contest) was a reminder that the Peruvian left – bereft of leadership, resources and a convincing discourse – is at a very low ebb. Even if Gana Perú manages to recast itself as a force on the left in 2016, it too lacks a leader (in the absence of Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia), a structure and much by way of credibility.

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