With twelve months to go before next year’s first round of presidential elections, it seems that twice former president Alan García is seeking to distance himself and APRA from the pro-Fujimorista bloc in Congress. On April 14, following a chat with the new prime minister Pedro Cateriano, García announced that APRA would give its support to Cateriano when next week he seeks a vote of approval for the new cabinet chief and his ministers.
APRA and the pro-Fujimoristas have worked closely together since Ollanta Humala became president in 2011, seeking to discredit Humala and a succession of cabinets. This alliance has given rise to the term ‘Aprofujimorismo’ in the Peruvian political lexicon. Some would say – even some Apristas – that it has been an unholy alliance of the far right whose purpose it has been to systematically discredit the government. Indeed, APRA and the Fujimoristas worked in cahoots during both García’s last government (2006-11) and Toledo’s (2001-06).
Although it started off as a left-of-centre populist party in the 1930s, APRA has been no stranger to ideological gyrations. In the 1950s and in the 1960s, it allied itself with right-wing authoritarians, such as General Odría and his supporters, to do down mildly reformist administrations such as those of Fernando Belaúnde (1963-68). In the case of Belaúnde, APRA intransigence in Congress helped prepare the ground for the 1968 military coup.
Since 2001, when García returned to politics from exile during the Fujimori period, APRA has become more and more the personal party of its leader. Democracy within the party has atrophied as its leader, with his ‘colossal ego’, has become the mainspring of its electoral fortunes. The party needs García far more than he needs the party, although at election times it is handy to have an apparatus and some local organisation at his disposal. As with other political parties, there is little by way of any ideological commitment except the crude pursuit of political power.
APRA as a party suffered a cruel blow in the 2011 elections when, on a wave of hostility towards the outgoing president, it was reduced to only four seats in Congress. García’s loyal lieutenants, Javier Velasquez Quesquén and Mauricio Mulder, were left to hold the fort while García himself plotted his course to return to the presidential palace in 2016. The party has suffered further electoral setbacks in regional and municipal elections, even in its former bastion in and around Trujillo. Apristas can only pin their hopes of a better future on support for García next year.
The Fujimoristas reacted angrily to García’s rapprochement with Cateriano who has consistently been one of their most hostile adversaries. This of course helps open up space between the Fujimoristas and García. With the 2016 elections approaching, García cannot afford to be seen as too close to those who promise to be his main adversaries; Keiko Fujimori still leads García in opinion polls by a significant margin. As in previous elections, García wants to occupy the centre ground of politics, not the extreme right; this improves his chances of reaching the second round, and (once again) posing as the lesser of two evils (el mal menor) in the second round.
Whatever one thinks about Alan García, two things about him are undeniable: his keen tactical sense and his unrivalled reserves of political ambition.