As the date for setting presidential candidacies approaches, the Lima press is absorbed by the composition of the eventual line up. Who will run with whom? What sort of alliances are in the works? How many of the candidacies are simply tactical moves to get on to another’s list? Ultimately, the question we should ask ourselves is how much difference will it all make.
The vast majority of proto-candidates for the presidency are of the centre-right or the not-so-centre right. Alejandro Toledo, Luis Castañeda Lossio, Keiko Fujimori, Mercedes Aráoz, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski… All are proponents of the neoliberal economic model, all trumpet the need for foreign investment whatever the consequences, all want close relations with the United States, and all mouth the need for some redistribution in order to stablilise the country’s politics. All support the status quo.
The only real exception to this rule is Ollanta Humala, the left-of-centre nationalist who managed to tap into the deep vein of social discontent in 2006 to win more votes than any other in the first round of voting. Humala supports a more statist model of development with greater curbs over the activities of transnational companies in Peru. However, his stock appears to have dwindled since 2006; currently he attracts only around 10% of voters (if the polls are to be believed).
Peruvian democracy is threatened by what could easily turn into a contest between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. This is just what the architects of the 2003 Law of Political Parties had sought to avoid. They set out to create a robust system of political parties which would provide real options to the electorate based not on personalities but programmes of government. They attempted to build rules that would also encourage parties to operate in a transparent fashion (particularly with respect for money) and to use democratic methods to choose their leaders and candidates.
The proliferation of presidential candidates from insignificant groupings in 2006 showed that the Law on Political Parties had had little practical impact. 2011 promises to be no different. Politics in Peru remains highly atomised into micro-parties, parties with no social presence that serve purely and simply as electoral vehicles for power-hungry personalities.
Even APRA, Peru’s only real political party over the last 20 years is but a shadow of its former self. In the October local elections, it lost in all but one of Peru’s 26 regional divisions. Under Alan García it has abandoned any pretence it may once have had to be a centre-left party interested in promoting the interests of the majority. Its choice of Aráoz, a neoliberal technocrat, as its presidential candidate was symptomatic; irrespective of party democracy, she was the most suited to García’s plans to run for president in 2016. García is constitutionally barred this time from seeking re-election.
The danger for Peru in all this is not only that democracy provides electors with few real choices, but that the political system will remain in the hands of those whose main concern is to keep power firmly in the hands of a small moneyed elite, to encourage business at the expense of all other considerations, and to run rough-shod over the rights of those who dare to protest. In the long-term, this is not a recipe for political stability.