Peru Election Special

Dan on March 31st, 2011
Toledo vs Humala in Peru's Presidential Elections

Toledo vs Humala in Round 2?

There was a new opinion poll out from IMA today which gave a bit of a twist to the election story this year and prompted me to write my first blog post here on Llama-rama on the always interesting, occasionally baffling and sometimes downright barmy world of Peruvian politics…

Source: IMA Encuesta Marzo 2011

Alejandro Toledo: 23.9%
Ollanta Humala: 21.9%
Keiko Fujimori: 17.6%
Pedro Kuczynski: 16.9%
Luis Castañeda: 13.8%

For those of you who didn’t realise, 2011 is a presidential election year in Peru, and with the current president, Alan Garcia deciding not to stand for re-election (translation: had absolutely zero chance of getting back in (my bad: unable to run – see comments below) it’s been a very open field: more open than in many years, in fact. There are probably five candidates from all over the political spectrum with a genuine possibility of being in the Presidential Palace in June.

The polls in Peru certainly aren’t always that accurate, but this is one of the last ones that will come out before April 3rd (after which no more polls are allowed by law) and it certainly throws up some interesting possibilities for the first round of voting on April 10th.

Why should this interest you? Well, if you’re reading this you’re probably thinking about visiting Peru and this election offers a really good insight into many of the issues that are currently affecting this beautiful, but developing country. Plus, it will give you something to talk to Lima taxi-drivers about ;-)

So here’s your quick cut out n’ keep guide to the runners:

Alejando Toledo – 23.9% – back from the dead?

To give you a bit of background – Toledo is the last-but-one president who left office with incredibly low approval ratings but whose reputation has gradually been rebuilt. He came in promising an awful lot and people (particularly the rural poor) expected massive changes which he was never going to be able to deliver. He was the first-ever president to recognisably look like he had Andean heritage rather than coming from the European/Japanese Lima elite. Personally, I always thought he got a rough deal: he managed to steer Peru through some difficult times and many would say his focus on basic infrastructure projects set the country on an increasingly prosperous path; the flip side is that business people never felt he did enough for them, while the poor felt they didn’t see any of the benefits of the growing economy. Without doubt, that’s true but I genuinely felt he was trying to pursue improvements in terms of social justice without venturing into Morales/Chavez territory. Ironically, having been roundly abused by everybody and having disappeared into US academia since 2006, he may now be the only candidate who can attract enough support from all sectors of society to be a successful president…

Ollanta Humala – 21.9% – “a good soldier?”

Is he named after an Inca chieftan who fought against the Incas or the town where the Incas made their last stand against the Spanish? He doesn’t seem that clear and to be honest that sums up his policies: is he a right-wing nationalist or a left-wing populist? Recent remarks about “peruvianizing” the north of Chile and about “treating Chileans like they treat Peruvians” are lowest-common-denominator politics in Peru but play well to his base in the south and central Andes, where he’s seen as standing up to big business (for which read Chile and the US) on behalf of the little guy. Lots of macho talk about “dignity” and “force” without much in the way of details. Hugo Chavez has referred to him as a “good soldier” and he has also shared platforms with President Morales of Bolivia.. If you haven’t guessed yet: I’m not big on the guy. He’s toned things down a little in recent years but to me he just seems like another of the demagogues who crop up in Peru’s political history every few years and I hope he fades away like most of them do… However, 21.9% of Peruvians obviously feel differently…

Keiko Fujimori – 17.6% – Daddy’s girl?

It’s a good one this: her dad (Alberto Fujimori) was the President before Toledo, elected in 1990 and in power for 10 years. He was widely credited with putting an end to the terrorism which had plagued Peru during the 80s and was very popular in much of Peru, particularly in Lima and along the coast. However, huge human rights abuses and corruption allegations led to him being impeached in November 2000 and him fleeing to Japan. He was eventually extradited from Chile and is now in prison in Peru, convicted of murder, corruption, abuse of power and embezzlement. Like all good daughters, Keiko wants the country to pardon her Dad and that – really – is the only issue she is campaigning on. Given what you’ve just read you may be surprised to hear that many Peruvians (well: 17.6%, I guess) aren’t averse to this: it’s hard to underestimate the gratitude which was felt towards Alberto Fujimori for ending the terrorism in the 80s and even today many Peruvians would welcome him back, corruption, murder and all.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski – 16.9% – The Comeback Gringo

More commonly known as PPK, this Oxford-educated economist is a Peruvian of German extraction but also holds US citizenship – which he has promised to renounce if elected. He has a banking and economics background but advised Toledo during his presidential campaign and served under him in government, firstly as Economics Minister and then as Prime Minister. He’s widely seen as the pro-business candidate because of his background but I’m not actually sure that’s fair: he certainly concentrates on development and jobs but he recognises that this needs to come to the poorest parts of the country to make a difference to people and he’s actually been focussing his campaign on the poorer southern regions, as well as Lima. Has he done enough? Hard to say, but his poll ratings are increasing little by little every month. They’re starting to call him el gringo atrasador which I’ve found surprisingly hard to translate but roughly means ‘the white guy who comes late”. Will it be his party? Well, if he makes it to the second round anything’s possible but I think he may have started from too small a base…

Luis Castañeda – 13.8% – What went wrong?

Five years ago, Castañeda was the coming man in Peruvian politics; a year ago he looked certain to be one of – if not the – frontrunner for the Presidency. And yet, here he is lying in fifth place in the polls. What’s gone wrong? A two-term Mayor of Lima, he’s been hugely popular there (although he upset many by pushing through big infrastructure projects such as the Metropolitano rapid transit system) but just doesn’t seem to have made the transition to the national stage. Is he too Lima? He was always seen as the candidate of choice by the right but has the field this year fractured that? Many on the centre-right have re-evaluated Toledo’s legacy; PPK has strong pro-business credentials; authoritarian and nationalist right-wingers may favour Humala, or even Keiko: maybe that’s a quadruple whammy that’s been too much for Castañeda to take?

We should also remember that this poll as a 4% margin of error, so it’s possible that the candidates are even more evenly-placed than it would appear. Providing no candidate gets more than 50% of the votes (which seems highly unlikely), the drama will be which candidates finish 1st and 2nd: only they will go through to the 2nd round run-off. I think Humala will almost certainly be there, but who will join him? In some ways I’d like it to be PPK but I think Toledo will sneak it and win the 2nd round pretty convincingly. What would be interesting is if Humala doesn’t make it and voters have to choose between PPK/Toledo or perhaps Keiko or Castañeda – this would mean some fairly similar candidates have to set out their policies clearly to differentiate themselves.

Anyway – less than 2 weeks until we find out… If nothing else, it’s really pleasing to see an election being fought on policies and ideals rather than pure mudslinging…