Front five face the starting gun

30 November 2015

Although campaigning for the April 2016 presidential campaign began some time ago, the annual meeting of executives (CADE), held this week, is when the main candidates will line up to present their party programmes; as such it is seen as the official opening of the campaign season. Although most of the front-runners support the continuation of business-friendly policies, none can afford to make the mistake of appearing too obviously as the ‘business candidate’. As such, their pitch will be to the wider public.

There are currently five candidates in serious contention, and it is these who will be heading for the holiday resort of Paracas where this year’s CADE is to be held. Here we look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the front five, in the order in which they currently appear in the opinion polls.

Keiko Fujimori. Depending on which poll you look at, Keiko has around 31-35% of voting intentions. This has not changed much in recent months. She is trying to distance herself from the authoritarian legacy of her father and incorporate more ‘democratic’ figures in her campaign. The most recent recruit is Vladimiro Huaroc, formerly of Susana Villarán’s centre-left Fuerza Social. But distancing herself from her father and his entourage is not proving so easy, particularly in convincing the voting public. Commentators tend to see this as an electoral ploy. Still Keiko Fujimori enters the election campaign with substantial advantages. Her profile is well-known; she has been building up an organisation on the ground for several years; and there is no shortage of people (for legitimate or other reasons) prepared to bankroll her campaign.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. PPK as he is known (and also as his party, Peruanos Para el Kambio), is second in the polls with 10-15%. As with Keiko, this percentage has not changed substantially in recent months. If anything, it has slightly declined. PPK represents the technocratic, pro-business option in the campaign. Probably his main weakness is his un-Peruvianess. Although he says he has started the process of annulling his US nationality, it will take more than this to convince ordinary voters that he is ‘their’ candidate. PPK’s surprisingly strong campaign in 2011 (though he didn’t make it to the second round) was grounded in more affluent, urban voters, particularly in Lima. On the plus side, PPK enjoys the advantage of having plenty of money and a media establishment sympathetic to his cause, especially the conservative El Comercio group which controls most of the country’s written press and TV.

César Acuña. So far his rise to prominence has been the main novelty of the campaign. As we saw last week, he has overtaken Alan García as the ‘third man’ in terms of voter preferences. Whether he can sustain this position is less clear. His main political assets are the image he projects as a successful, self-made man of humble origins, and his network of universities that now cover much of the country and provide an infrastructure and cash with which to campaign (see PSG article on universities). Acuña will come under particularly strong pressure from García in the coming weeks, notably in the north of the country where his Alianza por el Progreso has successfully displaced APRA in what used to be APRA’s traditional bastion of support. Attacks by his estranged wife will not help him, particularly among female voters, who alleges she suffered physical mistreatment.

Alan García. García has so far got off to a poor start, sinking rather than rising in the polls. His name is constantly associated in the media with the ‘narco-indultos’ scandal. Although friends in the judiciary may have rescued him from the investigative commission looking into accusations of corruption in his last government (the so-called ‘mega-commission’), his rivals will continue to use such allegations as ammunition. All are very aware that García is a highly skilled political operator that they under-estimate at their peril. Also, APRA still enjoys an enduring party organisation and residual loyalty that can easily be reactivated at election time. However, the twice former president will need to rally all the skill he can muster if he is to make it to the second round. Knocking out Acuña will be his first priority in the next month or so.

Alejandro Toledo. Toledo’s campaign has yet to show much signs of raising the former president out of the league of ‘also rans’. He will try to resuscitate some of the energies that helped propel him to the presidency in the 2001 elections. But as well as having been one of Peru’s least popular presidents (his popularity ratings were in single digits for much of his period in office to 2006), he has the as yet unresolved problem of dodgy real estate dealings hanging over him and his family.


And what of the left?
All five of the leading candidates represent positions on the right or centre-right. None promise to upset the neoliberal applecart favoured by successive Peruvian governments since the beginning of the 1990s. However, particularly as Peru’s economic performance begins to falter, this opens up a vacuum on the left. In the 2006 and 2011 elections, this was a space occupied by Ollanta Humala’s Nationalist Party (PNP), which successfully attracted the support of the large number of Peruvian voters disillusioned by the pro-business agenda of previous governments, notably García’s. The PNP has selected a presidential candidate, Milton Von Hesse, but not one with much obvious electoral appeal.

The Peruvian left remains divided. Currently there are two main blocs: the Frente Amplio and the Unidad Democrática (UD) coalition. If these can unite around a single candidate, then the left will have a reasonable chance of increasing its political profile, if not reaching the second round.

This past weekend, saw primary elections in UD, in which the leading candidates were Gonzalo García Núñez and Sergio Tejada. The results of this were still unclear as we went to press, but should be available by the end of the week.

These UD primary follows that of the Frente Amplio a month back, which saw the victory of Veronika Mendoza. Mendoza managed narrowly to beat Marco Arana, the founder of Tierra y Libertad, a party that has campaigned on environmental and societal damage caused by extractive industries. She has been campaigning hard in the last few weeks, but suffers from lack of economic resources and scant exposure in the conservative-dominated media.

It remains to be see whether UD and the Frente Amplio will be able to overcome mutual distrust and political rivalries to present a single left-wing candidate for 2016. They do not have very long to do so, since the deadline for registering alliances to the electoral authorities is 12 December.

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    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.

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