It was perhaps not the most notable result of the congressional elections on 26 January, but historically the disappearance of APRA from a representative function is surely significant. The APRA list for Congress attracted the votes of no more than 2.7% of voters, meaning that it failed to pass the valla, the rule by which parties that fail to reach 5% of the vote win no seats.
APRA has a long history as one of Peru’s most influential parties, even though its years in office hardly did justice to this.
Established by Raul Haya de la Torre in exile in 1924, it entered the political scene in Peru (as the Partido Aprista Peruano, PAP) in 1930. It nearly won the 1931 elections with Haya its presidential candidate. Its ideology was quintessentially populist, in line with other parties in Latin America at the time.
But its progressive stance transformed into a highly conservative one in the 1950s, its anti-communism standing out in the politics of the Cold War. Although Apristas served in some governments, it was not until 1985 that APRA won an election under the leadership of Haya’s protégé, Alan García. García at the time tried to resuscitate the party’s more progressive credentials, but ultimately stumbled in the political and economic crises he helped provoke at the end of the 1980s.
The Fujimori period saw APRA side-lined, along with other traditional parties, but García made an extraordinary come-back in the 2001 and then in the 2006 elections when he took office for a second time beating off the leftist challenge from Ollanta Humala.
But APRA found itself beholden to García’s new-found conservatism. García adopted the mantle of neoliberalism during his second term, pushing out more progressive figures from the party’s leadership. It made common cause with the fujimorista right, especially during the government of Humala and subsequently under Kuczynski and Vizcarra.
The Odebrecht scandal revealed the degree of corruption and personal enrichment that took place under García’s second term, a trait that also characterised his first term. But García’s legal skills and his penetration of Peru’s legal system kept him one step ahead of his accusers. But ultimately, it all caught up with him. He famously shot himself as the police arrived at his home to arrest him last April.
García’s domination of the party, but also his disdain for it, led to APRA’s atrophy as a political force. The party’s representation dwindled to the extent that it elected only five members to Congress in 2016. His lieutenants in the legislature, Mauricio Mulder and Jorge Del Castillo, did nothing to revive its fortunes, ending up quarrelling with one another.
So, can APRA rise again from the ashes? It seems unlikely that voters will rush to support the party in next year’s general elections. History elsewhere seems to show that old parties can chunter on but as pale imitations of their former selves. If APRA has any one asset, it is probably its historical record. But that record, though long, is hardly very glorious.