Second round regional elections: reading the runes

10 Dec 2014

Second round regional elections: reading the runes

Trying to draw conclusions from the results of second round elections for regional presidencies in 14 out of 25 regions presents difficulties. A bewildering number of regional parties – perhaps ‘parties’ is too extravagant a term – with candidates with eminently local agenda and lacking in any ideological consistency or real organisation in society. Each region seems to defend its own perceived interests.

The first obvious conclusion is the absence of major national political parties at the local level. Of the 28 candidates contesting the second round, candidates for national political parties numbered only four: three for the pro-Fujimori party Fuerza Popular and one for APRA. Of these, the Fujimoristas won in three contests (Ica, San Martín and Pasco). The success rate of national parties in contesting sub-national elections has fallen successively since Peru returned to democracy in 2000.

Regional elections therefore offer little by way of a guide as to what will happen in the next national elections, due in 16 months time in April 2016. Regional parties are not regulated in the same way as national parties, and do not have to abide by reaching the same rules regarding automatic re-inscription (known as the valla). For the national elections, it seems that the strongest candidates will be Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular), Alan García (APRA) and (possibly) Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski (Alianza por el Gran Cambio). It is by no means clear who will be the candidate for the ruling Nationalist Party (PNP) of President Ollanta Humala.

The second general conclusion of the election results is the low level of public probity of most of those elected. Many have accusations of corruption and other dubious business practices levelled against them. In Ancash, a region which has become a byword for corruption in local politics, the election was won by Wálter Ríos Salcedo. However, the electoral authorities (JNE) have ruled that he will not be able to become regional president. The judiciary had previously ruled that he could not stand because he had failed to repay to the state $10,000 paid to him by Vladimiro Montesinos as a bribe to buy support for the Fujimori cause at the time of the 2000 elections.

The ability of local politicians to rally electoral support in spite of reputations for sleaze had already become apparent in the first round of elections for regional presidencies and local mayors at the beginning of October. Then, Luis Castañeda Lossio was elected mayor of Lima by an overwhelming majority, in spite of accusations of corruption in his previous two terms in office.

The scale of fiscal transfers to local government – regional, provincial and district – and the proliferation of corruption charges that have resulted have led to demands for a rethinking of the whole system of decentralisation that came into being following the collapse of the super-centralised Fujimori administration in 2000. While reforms are clearly needed, there is a danger of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. A return to the kind of administration seen as ‘efficient’ by Fujimori and Montesinos would have serious dangers for democratic governance in Peru.

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