With presidential elections now only two years away, Peruvian politicians are focused on the struggle to see who replaces Alan Garcia. With many potential candidates in the running, it is most unlikely that any one will win outright on the first round, so a key issue is who the plausible candidates might be for the second round and the alliances that might emerge around them. This gives rise to all sorts of permutations.

An Apoyo opinion poll in mid-March pointed to two strong candidates: Luis Castaneda Lossio, the mayor of Lima, and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori. Castaneda is credited for being a fairly efficient mayor, with his name associated with obras of varying shapes and sizes. His popularity, however, is concentrated in Lima.

Fujimori, who garnered many more votes than any other candidate in the 2006 congressional elections, is trading on nostalgia for the Fujimorato in the 1990s – human rights violations and mega-corruption notwithstanding. She has recently stated in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, that her popularity in the polls reflects not just her work, but also continued strong support for her father. Although she believes he will be acquitted, Keiko has also said that if she were to win the presidency she would pardon her father if he is found guilty of the human rights violations he is currently on trial. The Fujimori brand name clearly still counts for a lot.

On the left, Ollanta Humala, still hopes to clinch the prize that eluded him in 2006, when he was pipped at the post by Garcia. Although he came in third in the Apoyo poll, opinion polls tend to under-represent the voting intentions of rural, Andean Peru where Humala’s electoral strength is concentrated. Humala, a strident nationalist, is trying to make common cause with the parties of the fragmented left. Previous election campaigns suggest that these are incapable of making a serious bid for power on their own.

There are, of course, other contenders. Lourdes Flores of the right wing Partido Popular Cristiano (PPC) appears not to be cowed by two previous failed attempts at the presidency. The ruling APRA party may want to put forward its own candidate, even though the party lacks the organised popular support for which it was once famous. Mercedes Cabanillas, recently appointed by Garcia as interior minister, is a possible candidate, despite her poor performance in the 1995 elections.

A lot, of course, can happen in two years, and it is far too early to start predicting who might eventually emerge as victorious. But two inter-connected constants seem to be re-surfacing in Peruvian politics, both of which are sources of concern.

The first is the weakness of representative institutions, particularly political parties. Organised political parties are in decline, whether on the left, the centre or the right. The 2003 Law on Political Parties has not achieved its intention of helping to create a strong, lively party system. Consequently, ordinary people lack the vehicles through which they can influence politics and express their views. In spite of Garcia’s election last time round, APRA, Peru’s oldest political party, has failed to consolidate its position. Garcia himself seems to regard his party more as a hindrance than as a political asset.

The second is the continuance of a markedly authoritarian tradition in Peruvian politics. This is as true of people like Humala on the left as it is of the Fujimorista tradition on the right. It is also an increasingly salient feature of the Garcia administration. It feeds on ordinary people’s economic, social and physical sense of insecurity. It lives on in a top-down approach to politics that cuts across ideological boundaries and is a characteristic common to governments so dissimilar in policy terms as the Velasco regime of the 1970s and that of Fujimori in the 1990s. It is a tradition that tends to spurn democratic transparency, encourage the violation of human rights, foster corruption and militate against active citizenship.

The 2011 elections provide an opportunity to change this legacy. Let us hope that a political leadership emerges in the next year or so that seeks to do so.