POLITICS: Regional/municipal elections: a vote for corruption?

28 September 2014

As the mayoral and regional elections on October 5 loom, the race for the mayor of Lima seems to be a shoo-in for Luis Castañeda Lossio. The polls predict that he will receive more than half of the votes cast, this is in spite of at least 49% of the electorate considering him to be corrupt. This paradox can be explained by voters’ perceptions that as all politicians take advantage of their position it is acceptable to vote for those who are at least perceived to be efficient.

In her nearly four years in post, incumbent Susana Villarán has been unable to fend off accusations of incompetence. This is in spite of having been willing to confront some of the most complex and entrenched problems faced by the city. She relocated the main market from La Parada where it had been operating informally for several decades, to the purpose-built Mercado de Santa Anita. Villarán has undertaken an integral reform of the transport system that seeks to rid the city of informal small buses (known as ‘combis’) and replace them with large buses that follow established routes and respect established bus stops.

Meanwhile in the regional elections, according to figures cited by Prime Minister Ana Jara, 22 of the 25 candidates for regional presidencies face judicial investigations of one sort or another. Given the dispersion of candidates and the bewildering array of local parties in each region, most contests will probably go to a second round. This happens when no candidate reaches 30% of votes cast.

One of the most closely watched contests will be in Cajamarca where the incumbent regional president, Gregorio Santos, is campaigning for re-election from behind bars. Santos stands accused of the misuse of public funds. He is also the bête noire of the mining establishment, having for years led the campaign against the gold mining giant Yanacocha (majority owned by Newmont Mining of the United States) and its plans to expand gold mining activities with the Conga project. Mining and Energy Minister Eliodoro Mayorga has made no secret of his desire for Santos’ defeat, but polls suggest the result could be close.

Local politics have acquired major importance in the last 20 years due to the substantial resources being channelled to local and regional administrations through (amongst other things) the canon system. The size of these transfers, coupled to the lack of proper oversight mechanisms for how money is spent, has led to corruption on a massive scale. A substantial number of mayors and regional presidents are also believed to be on the drug traffickers’ payroll.

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