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Pivotal Elections for Emerging Peru

Author: Joel D. Hirst, International Affairs Fellow in Residence, 2010-2011
April 8, 2011

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Peru's presidential elections on April 10 amount to a contest among old, familiar names. The most recent IPSOS poll (the last poll due to Peruvian electoral law) shows the most support for Ollanta Humala, who ran in the previous election in 2006 and was narrowly defeated by Alan Garcia. He is followed in polling by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori (currently in prison for corruption), then former president Alejandro Toleda, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former minister of the economy and finance.

This year's election is crucial for Peru to be able to consolidate its democratic stability and its economic growth. Analysts agree that Peru's trajectory over the last decade has been positive. Growth has averaged 6 percent per year for much of the past decade and since Fujimori left Peru has experienced three successful peaceful transitions of power. Nevertheless, its ongoing growth is far from guaranteed. Peru still has significant problems. It remains the world's second-largest producer of cocaine. It has high levels of income inequality and social exclusion. And it is experiencing a rise in drug trafficking and crime that feeds corruption and erodes public confidence. For this reason, the rhetoric of certain candidates remains concerning.

Specifically, Humala uses much of the same fiery language as people he has called friends in the past, most notably President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Also, his platform most closely resembles the ideology of the Bolivarian Republic countries, which have brought instability to the region. A win by Humala could cause internal instability and negatively affect investor confidence, which has been such an important part of Peru's dramatic recovery.

Several factors make Peru's political process volatile. For starters, voting is mandatory. This gives added weight to those who remain undecided throughout the campaigning process. It also has a two-round system, requiring the top two candidates vie against each other should no one candidate receives a simple majority in the first round. Due to Peru's multiparty system, a second round is almost guaranteed, and certainly will be the case for the April 10 elections. The campaign has been dominated by issues of inequality and how each candidate would harness the country's impressive growth to provide a better standard of living to the poorest.

Peru also has traditionally weak political parties. A case in point is the showing of the candidate of President Garcia's party, the APRA, who was polling in the single digits before she dropped out of the race altogether.

Below is a brief outline of the four candidates who could make it to the second round and their latest IPSOS polling figures.

The campaign has been dominated by issues of inequality and how each candidate would harness the country's impressive growth to provide a better standard of living to the poorest.

  • Ollanta Humala (27.2 percent) -- Born in 1962, Ollanta Humala is a retired lieutenant colonel from the Peruvian Armed Forces. During his active duty service, he served as military attaché at various Peruvian Embassies around the world, including France and South Korea. His party, called "Peru Wins," describes itself as Peru's Nationalist Party. Humala became famous when he participated in a military uprising led by his brother, Antauro, in October 2000 against then-president Fujimori. The uprising was rapidly put down and both brothers were imprisoned. After Fujimori was ousted, interim President Valentin Paniagua pardoned them. Humala is not without controversy. During the 2006 campaign, he was closely associated with Venezuela's Chavez, and there were allegations of financial support. Many believe that Chavez's very public support cost him the presidency in 2006. While he has tried to distance himself ideologically from Chavez this time, his 197-page "Plan of Government" includes much of the rhetoric used by members of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas. These include plans to "remake the neoliberal predatory state" through a "new republicanism without a bourgeois society." He has also stirred controversy through his plan to rewrite the constitution through a "political agreement." This has aroused fears of constituent assemblies, seen as destabilizing in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
  • Keiko Fujimori (20.5 percent) -- Born in 1975, Keiko is running on the ticket of the political party "2011 Force," a new party. She is currently serving her first term in the Peruvian Congress. Keiko's plan of government has been organized into four pillars: 1) share economic growth to reduce poverty and eliminate extreme poverty; 2) create an efficient government that responds to the needs of all Peruvians; 3) increase citizen security by fighting terrorism and organized crime; and 4) promote the creation of quality employment. Keiko has run her candidacy as socially conscious yet still market friendly. The main controversy surrounding Keiko has to do with her father, who is still serving two consecutive twenty-five-year prison sentences. While Keiko has not addressed the issue directly, most expect her to pardon him should she attain the presidency. It is unclear what role he would play in any Keiko administration, but due to his age and illness (he is battling cancer), it is dubious he would provide more than advice.
  • Alejandro Toledo (18.5 percent) -- Born in 1946, Toledo is a well-known figure in Peruvian politics. He famously ran against Alberto Fujimori in the 2000 elections and lost the first round due to fraud. The following year, Fujimori was forced to resign due to pressure resulting from a leaked video showing his internal security director, Vladimiro Montesinos, providing payoffs to a member of congress. Toledo assumed the presidency after winning the elections in 2001. As a Quechua, Toledo was the first Latin American president of Indigenous descent. Toledo's political party is "Peru Possible," the same party that carried him to victory in 2001. His platform for governance has been a continuation of the market-driven policies that have brought Peru unprecedented economic growth. Despite excellent macroeconomic performance, Toledo finished his previous term as president with single-digit approval ratings due to high levels of unemployment and income inequality. Toledo was also involved with allegations of corruption stemming from his administration, of which none were proven.
  • Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) (18.1 percent) -- Known as PPK, Kuczynski, born in 1938, is a newcomer to elected politics. His political party, "Alliance for the Great Change" formed in 2010 as an electoral platform. PPK was finance minister during the interim government of Paniagua and for a short time during Toledo's first term. He was appointed prime minister by Congress in 2005. Kuczynski's "plan of government" includes a defense of market-based capitalism, although during his campaign he reached out to the poor with the publishing of twenty-five "commitments" of his government; which include reducing poverty, increasing support to small farmers, increasing public education, and others. Nevertheless, his candidacy has helped polarize the presidential race; he has drawn public support from business and social conservatives concerned about a Humala presidency. This in turn caused some members of the "democratic left" to throw their support behind Humala in reaction.

To consolidate some of the successes of the last decade, Peru must carry on down the path of economic and social stability while continuing to operate within the bounds of global legitimacy. The Andean region, which has seen so much instability of late, can ill afford another political misadventure.

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