The Left makes gains in Cajamarca, under improbable circumstances

17 April 2016

Gregorio Santos, a candidate for the Direct Democracy party, was the clear winner in the first round of elections in Cajamarca, achieving 36.5% of the popular vote, to Keiko Fujimori’s 32.3%. What makes this result particularly remarkable is that Santos has been inside the maximum security Ancón 1 prison for two years on remand awaiting judgement on corruption charges. Santos’s situation was no formal impediment to running for the Presidency of Peru. On that score, he did less well, achieving 4.0% at the national level.

The success of a candidate with a long association with the militant left in Peru has raised eyebrows. Santos is a member of the Communist Party in Peru and served as Regional Governor of Cajamarca from 2011-2014 on behalf of the Social Affirmation Movement. He was reelected as Governor in 2014 for the period 2015-2018, but has been unable to take up the post due to his current situation.

Santos has built-up a reputation for opposing large mining operations in the region, resulting in a loyal voter base willing to overlook the allegations of corruption. Large crowds gathered in squares around Cajamarca during the presidential campaign to watch Santos speak via video from prison. He was permitted to participate in the presidential debate organised by the National Jury of Elections (JNE) on 3 April. On the same day, the prosecutor in his case called for a penalty of 24 years in prison for alleged corruption in the administration of public works contracts.

Subsequent to the result, the candidate the Peruvians for Change, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, possibly with an eye to building his support base among the left, offered to visit Santos in prison to discuss similarities in their manifestos. The response was curt; rather than visit him in prison, Santos suggested PPK should go to Cajamarca. Santos has made his mark on the presidential elections of 2016. His future role in Peruvian politics will hinge on the imminent ruling in his court case.

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