Elections 2016, the race begins
19 October 2015
With six months to go to the general elections on 10 April next, the race is formally on to see who will replace Ollanta Humala as Peru’s president. Amid a climate of profound disillusionment with the political class as a whole, the elections promise to be (as in the recent past) more a contest between the presidential candidates that voters reject, rather than those who they admire most.
Although the formation of electoral alliances need not be completed before December, and negotiations will probably continue up until the last minute, we have a pretty good idea of who the main candidates will be. All evoke negativities among large sectors of the population, which they will try to allay, albeit by focusing on the negativities of their rivals.
Keiko Fujimori, who leads the polls with 30% plus, is doing her best to distance herself from those perceived to be closest to her disgraced father, promoting a rather more democratic and less authoritarian image. The distance between her and the so-called ‘albertistas’ will grow, at least for the duration of the campaign. However, for many electors this seems little more than an essay in image management.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (who has 15-18% support in the polls) is also seeking to widen his appeal by attempting to convince voters that he is more than just the candidate of the business elite, and that his policies will have a social dimension. But he will have a tough time trying to convince the poorer sectors of Peruvian society that he is ‘their man’. In 2011, he did surprisingly well, but his support was concentrated around Lima and the more affluent sectors of its population.
Alan García, who trails at around 8%, has perhaps the biggest task ahead in convincing voters that he is a man devoted to clean and honest government. Amongst other things, the ‘narco-indultos’ scandal weighs heavily around his neck. Revelations from the Brazilian ‘car wash’ scandals could also cost him dear if his second government (2006-11) is shown to have benefitted from Brazilian construction industry spin-offs.
And Alejandro Toledo is labouring under accusations of financial improprieties of his own and those of his close family.
The issues on which the campaign will be fought are also now fairly clear-cut. First on the list of voter concerns will be citizen security. Although Peru is by no means the most violent country in Latin America, perceptions of insecurity are omnipresent. Those best placed to take advantage of these are those seen to be ‘toughest on crime’, never mind the causes of it. Keiko Fujimori will benefit here, but others (notably Toledo and García) will seek to compete in this terrain by making promises like bringing in the armed forces to tackle crime on the streets.
Close on the heels of insecurity comes corruption (see PSG article). The scale of corruption in public life has become widely perceived, especially in the last few years. The candidate most likely to be seen as ‘least bad’ in this respect will be Kuczynski, and he will seek to exploit this. Also relative newcomers to front-line politics like the Frente Amplio’s Veronika Mendoza (see PSG article) will score points for perceptions of honesty and opposition to corruption.
A third issue is employment. As the economy slows, job creation will fail to keep up with a fast-growing labour force and, as we saw last week, some two-thirds of Peruvian workers labour in the informal sector of the economy. All candidates will thus need to prove that they are ‘good for growth’.
Issues such as human rights and social justice do not promise to be the most important on voters’ minds at the moment.
Organisation, money and media
To mount an election campaign in Peru can demand deep pockets, though (as the 1990 election showed when Mario Vargas Llosa was beaten by Alberto Fujimori) big-spending can sometimes boomerang. It also requires organisation on the ground. While, to borrow García’s phrase, it may be that ‘la plata viene por sí sola’ (‘money comes of its own accord’), none of Peru’s parties has a strong organisational structure. This means that the media will play a hugely important role in the campaign. With most of the written press and television under the control of the conservative El Comercio group, the media will probably tilt the campaign in favour of the more right-wing candidates. Social media are another matter.