Unity on the left?
24 June 2015
With the presidential elections nine months away, there is growing interest in how the left will fare.
On the one hand, most of the proto-candidates who are so far lining up belong to the right or centre-right: Alan García, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Alejandro Toledo, Keiko Fujimori. Particularly in respect to economic policy, they utter the same sort of mantra: investment, investment and more investment. Policy has therefore to kow-tow to the interests of the investment community, especially foreign investors.
As yet, though various names are mentioned, no-one has emerged as a viable candidate on the left or centre-left to challenge this view or to come up with an alternative agenda.
On the other hand, recent election results confirm that there is a broad current of opinion that is far from content with the policy-mix approved of by the right and centre-right. The election of Ollanta Humala in 2011 on an agenda highly critical of economics-as-usual showed that opinion was by no means wholeheartedly in favour of this prescription, especially in regions outside Lima.
However, left-wing parties in Peru have been fragmented and divided ever since the debacle of the Izquierda Unida (United Left) at the end of the 1980s. Peru never figured in Latin America’s so-called ‘pink tide’ in which social movements and progressive parties found common cause and were able to challenge the neoliberal Washington Consensus with alternative policies.
Though there has been plenty of social movement activism in Peru in recent years, particularly in response to extractive industries, there has been a conspicuous absence of any political party or movement capable of uniting these politically and giving them expression at the national level. Peru’s left has been one of the main victims of the disappearance of socially-embedded political parties and their replacement by ephemeral electoral vehicles that simply support the ambitions of particular political leaders.
So while there is clearly a potential for the recovery of left-wing alternatives in Peru, it is by no means clear whether left-wing parties are capable of realising that potential. To do so, they will have to find a way of uniting behind a candidate and a set of beliefs that command credibility in national politics. They will need to tap into the concerns of a new generation of Peruvian electors, projecting views that capture their interests. They will need to build an organisation capable of fielding candidates, both for the presidency and for parliament, not just in Lima but (especially) throughout the rest of the country.
This is a tall order, but not one that is impossible to meet. The first step is to come up with a single presidential candidate who can command respect beyond a narrow group of political activists and who has wide appeal. Failure to do so may mean that the horse will fall at the first fence.