POLITICS: Regional and local elections reveal deep divisions

14 October 2014

The results of the elections held on October 5 once again revealed deep divisions in Peru. While the results brought few real surprises – most of the candidates who won were expected to do so – they showed the degree of fragmentation in sub-national politics and the extent of tolerance for candidates with questionable credentials.

Exemplary cases included that of Luis Castañeda Lossio who – as expected – won by a landslide in Lima with more than 50% of the vote, despite the widespread perception that he is corrupt. In Cajamarca incumbent Gregorio Santos – the anti-mining leader who is currently in jail accused of bribery, collusion and unlawful association – also won with more than half of the votes cast.

These two cases illustrate how local conditions and perceptions coloured the results in these elections. For people on the left, the defeat of incumbent Susana Villarán in Lima showed electors turning their back on one of the few mayors who made the campaign against graft one of their key policies. Meanwhile, for commentators on the right, Cajamarca’s choice seemed to show voters willfully ignoring what was good for them. They consider Santos the chief obstacle to foreign firms willing to invest in Peru’s extractive industries.

In an interesting article in El Comercio http://elcomercio.pe/opinion/colaboradores/democratizar-culpas-alberto-vergara-noticia-1762642, Alberto Vergara argued that in many cases the results reflected the depth of electors’ feelings of rage and frustration towards the status quo.

It remains unclear what will now happen in Cajamarca. Unless released in the next few months, Santos will be barred from taking his place as regional president. Failure to release him is likely to pour more fuel onto the fire of regional protest. A possible outcome would be that the regional council elected on October 5, which is heavily dominated by people from Santos’s party, will be called upon to choose a replacement. If they do, it is most unlikely to be someone keen for the giant Conga gold and copper mine to go ahead.

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