Peru: Challenges to the Summit of the Americas

By Fulton Armstrong

Men and women standing in Peruvian congressional chamber

Martín Vizarra’s inauguration as President of Peru on March 23, 2018. / Twitter: @prensapalacio / Creative Commons

The resignation of Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) last weekend marks not only a deepening of the crisis of governance in that country; it also signals the greatest threat yet to the credibility of the Summit of the Americas process begun in 1994.

  • The 2016 election of PPK, a technocrat with international experience, business acumen, and a stated commitment to attacking corruption, appeared at the time to reaffirm Peru’s preference for competent, if unglamorous, government. Allegations of inappropriate dealings with the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, when he was a government minister in the 2000s and as a consultant prior to the last election – which he blamed on business partners – were his undoing.  He dodged charges, fought back, made deals (including releasing former President Fujimori from prison), and reportedly deployed his allies to buy votes to oppose his impeachment – all to no avail.  Vice President Martín Vizcarra, sworn in last Friday to succeed him, had been spirited off to Canada to be Peru’s ambassador last September when allegations of malfeasance as Transportation Minister led to calls for his impeachment.  But last week he pledged to make anticorruption and transparency top priorities.
  • PPK is not the only tainted politician, or even the worst, in this drama. Two of his predecessors – Alejandro Toledo (2001-06) and Ollanta Humala (2011-16) – have been indicted for offenses involving Odebrecht.  The Congress that hounded PPK out of office is itself reportedly riddled with corruption.  Odebrecht officials have testified that PPK’s congressional nemesis, Keiko Fujimori, took $1.2 million from them in the 2011 presidential race.  The respected GFK poll indicates that, at 82 percent, Congress has a worse disapproval rating (by 1 percent) than PPK did last week – with the body’s corruption being a major factor.

The crisis comes just weeks before the eighth Summit of the Americas scheduled to be held in Lima on April 13‑14, with the overarching theme of “Democratic Governance against Corruption.”  Vizcarra has directed the Peruvian foreign ministry to proceed with preparations.  The event’s anticorruption focus could produce deeply embarrassing moments for a number of hemispheric heads of state in addition to the Peruvian hosts.  Odebrecht and the Lava Jato investigations loom large over Brazilian President Michel Temer (who, despite support in the single digits, last week announced his intention to run for reelection in October).  U.S. President Trump is engaged in warfare against the Department of Justice, FBI, and special prosecutor looking into allegations that he or his campaign colluded with Russians suspected of intervening in U.S. elections.  Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has stumbled from scandal to scandal.  Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández remains under a cloud because of persistent questions about the vote count in his reelection in November.  Venezuelan President Maduro would be an obvious outcast – for both his corruption and poor governance – but his peers’ own baggage would force some restraint on their condemnations.

Other than newly inaugurated President Vizcarra’s anticorruption pledge, the conditions for a successful summit around the theme of corruption and democratic governance are obviously absent, and going ahead with it risks rendering the event a laughing stock.  Changing the theme would undermine its credibility and raise the troubling questions of what meaningful topics – trade, democracy, inequality, infrastructure investment, or counternarcotics – could replace it.  There are also tempting reasons to postpone the event, including the fact that several countries – Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia among them – will be electing new presidents this year and could bring fresh, validated ideas to a meeting next year or beyond.  Postponing the event, however, would risk braking what little momentum the Summit process has and would leave open when, if ever, the perfect summit could be held.  Crises driven by corruption (and, in the case of Venezuela, the collapse of decency) have a tendency to go on for years.  Either way, Summit organizers are going to have to scale back their expectations – with a protocolary event that sacrifices substance in April, or create a pretext for postponement and hope for a more propitious moment in the future.  The Ibero-American Summit, which includes Spain but excludes the United States and Canada, is scheduled to meet in Guatemala in November under the theme of “A Prosperous, Inclusive, and Sustainable Ibero-America.”  Perhaps that event’s timing and theme will help get regional discussions back on track.

March 26, 2018

Peru: PPK Survives, But Political Crisis Deepens

By Carlos Monge*

Man holds up red and white flag

A protester in Lima holds a Peruvian flag with and image of Alberto Fujimori in prison garb with the phrase “Indulto Es Insulto… Asesino” (“The Pardon is an Insult… Murderer”). / Alan / Flickr / Creative Commons

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s commutation of former President Alberto Fujimori’s prison sentence – in exchange for some fujimorista support against his impeachment by Congress on corruption charges – has thrown the country’s politics into a tailspin and increased the prospects of prolonged national crisis.

  • PPK was accused of involvement in corrupt deals with Peruvian and Brazilian construction companies – part of the massive Brazil-based Lava Jato scandal – while he was Minister of Economy and Prime Minister under President Alejandro Toledo (2001-06). By ordering Fujimori’s release, he rewarded Kenji Fujimori and dissident Fuerza Popular MPs, who’d already split with party leader and sister Keiko over her wavering commitment to get their father out of jail at all cost, for their votes against the impeachment.  After emphatically denying he would do so, PPK granted Fujimori a humanitarian pardon on medical grounds, after which the former President experienced a recovery robust enough to resume political activism just days later.

The Fujimori indulto has aggravated deep and longstanding tensions within and among the country’s parties and civil society.  After the impeachment proceedings collapsed, three of PPK`s MPs and three of his ministers resigned in protest, and even the lawyer who defended him against impeachment has denounced his actions as a political scam.  PPK’s popular approval has sunk to 20 percent, and reliable polls show that more than half of the population rejects the indulto.  Protests are growing.  Some 30,000 to 40,000 people marched through Lima on January 11, condemning the collusion of corrupt elites to protect each other, and more demonstrations are planned.

  • Longtime observers in Lima say that the pro-Fujimori Fuerza Popular remains deeply divided as siblings Kenji and Keiko are at each other’s throats over the control of the party and relations with the PPK administration. Even if Alberto and Kenji Fujimori continue to support PPK for a while, open wounds from the close presidential race between PPK and Keiko in 2016 complicate cooperation and in fact may deepen the riff as Keiko’s close collaborators now accuse the PPK camp causing the Fuerza Popular crisis, even denouncing that fujimorista votes were paid for.  Informed speculation is that Keiko will fan the flames of scandal enveloping PPK (even though she reportedly has her own liabilities in Lava Jato) pushing for his fall in hopes of securing early elections rather than waiting until 2021.
  • The left, centrist sectors, and even some conservatives such as Nobel Prize novelist Mario Vargas Llosa have given up any pretense of coexisting with PPK. Human rights organizations and trade unions are demanding Alberto Fujimori be sent back to prison; denouncing the “corrupt alliance” between PPK, the Fujimoris, and the business elites; and insisting that ongoing investigations be pursued no matter who they bring down.  In some sectors, the leftist call for a new Constitution breaking the bond between the state and big business is gaining support.

PPK is a lame duck president with general elections still four years away.  In Congress, which is presided over by a forceful opponent – Luis Galarreta – his base has shrunk to 15 MPs, and he depends heavily on the support of fair-weather friends like Alberto and Kenji Fujimori.  The economy grew 2.7 percent last year, according to the Central Bank, but fell short of targets.  Lava Jato – which has already landed former President Ollanta Humala in jail and prompted extradition proceedings against former President Toledo (living in the United States) – is not going away, with new information expected soon from Brazil.  Popular rejection of the political class, which is seen as corrupt and cynical, will deepen.  Talk in Lima isn’t about if PPK will go, but when.  His fate at this moment appears to depend less on his own cunning and more on the political calculations and unstable relations between the two Fujimori factions and the rest of the parties in Congress and on the strength of street protests.

January 23, 2018

* Carlos Monge is Latin America Director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute in Lima.

Peru: Serious Challenges Ahead

By Michael Baney*

CLALS Keiko protest Peru

Photo Credit: harimarachinv / Flickr / Creative Commons

Peru’s presidential election, won by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, bore the hallmarks of Peru’s distinct brand of democracy – political parties that are mere temporary electoral vehicles with little ideology; strong anti-incumbent sentiment; and the absence of a serious challenge by the left.  Neither Kuczynski’s Peruanos Por el Kambio (PPK) nor Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular is a party with any true structure.  The fact that the acronym of Kuczynski’s party forms his initials and that Keiko Fujimori’s party uses a large K as its symbol underscores the personal nature of these parties and of politics in Peru.  For the fourth time in a row, not only did the governing party not remain in power; it did not field a candidate – symptom of the deep distrust of institutions and unhappiness with the status quo in the country.  The lack of a serious challenge by the left was also repeated.  Although Socialist Verónika Mendoza’s effective handling of a press challenge to her heritage gave her a surge in nationalist and indigenista support, her campaign faltered when her economic policies came under scrutiny.

The election also marked the emergence of a new generation of young antifujimorista activists who combined efforts on social media with traditional protests to undermine Fujimori’s electability.  These efforts included the production and online dissemination of Su Nombre es Fujimori, a documentary that links Keiko to some of the worst abuses of her father’s government, as well as pillorying her distribution of Keiko-branded tupperware (called tápers in Peru) among the rural poor in an apparent vote-buying effort.  Online voices ridiculed her by rewriting reports on the number of votes by which she trailed Kuczynski as indicating the number of additional tápers that she should have distributed, and the hashtag #KeikoTAPERdiendo – a colloquial pronunciation of “Keiko is losing” – was widely used to track reporting on the election.  Whereas protests traditionally were organized by older demonstrators linked to Marxist parties, this year a Facebook-based group organized two days of nationwide marches of tens of thousands of mostly younger antifujimoristas.

The weakness of Peru’s parties will complicate President Kuczynski’s efforts to govern, as it has with past presidents.  Kuczynski’s narrow victory was largely due to the effort of this new form of activism – which he did not lead, which is not necessarily loyal to him, and to which he does not have any strong allegiance.  His ability to continue to benefit from such efforts designed to shut fujimorista politicians out of office will be extremely constrained, particularly because his lack of support in the fujimorista-majority congress will likely compel him to adopt a friendlier attitude toward his former rivals.  Kuczynski has previously stated that he would sign a law allowing imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, Keiko’s father, to serve out his prison sentence at home, a move that he may consider to secure the cooperation of the fujimorista congressional bloc to move proposed legislation forward.  Such a move would be a major blow to Peru’s human rights movement, which spent many years campaigning to imprison the former leader, and it would also infuriate the antifujimoristas, bringing them out onto the streets once again.  Fujimorismo and antifujimorismo may remain the most salient political positions in a country where economic progress has not improved people’s trust of the system, a recipe for further polarization that could overwhelm the Kuczynski government should it attempt to straddle the two positions in an attempt to overcome the weaknesses inherent in a system with no parties.

June 13, 2016

*  Michael Baney is Political Risk Analyst at Allan & Associates in Washington, DC.

Peru’s Election: Close Vote Count, Divided Nation

By Cynthia McClintock*

Keiko Kuczyinski

Photo Credits: Venezualan Government / Public Domain and Diario La Primera / Wikimedia Commons

Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) will not announce the final results of Sunday’s run-off presidential election until later this week, but the current statistical tie is already setting the stage for serious tensions.  The ONPE’s official count, with about 93 percent of votes counted, puts Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Peruanos por el Kambio) at 50.32 percent and Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular) at 49.68 percent.  Some local observers say that late-arriving vote tallies from rural areas could give Fujimori the edge, but others point out that recent quick counts have reliably predicted final results.  The campaigns may have aggravated tensions on Sunday night, when Fujimori’s spokesperson proclaimed her victory, and Kuczynski called on loyalists to “defend the vote” and “to be vigilant that they not steal votes from us.”

The campaign underscored the country’s enduring polarization over Fujimori’s imprisoned father, Alberto.  Although Alberto Fujimori was convicted on charges of human rights violations and corruption, and although his 1990s government became increasingly authoritarian, he is still perceived by many Peruvians as the savior who restored order and broke the back of the Sendero Luminoso guerrillas.   Primarily for this reason, Keiko Fujimori won almost 40 percent of the votes in the first round on April 10; Kuczynski was the runner-up with 21 percent, narrowly defeating leftist candidate Verónika Mendoza (Frente Amplio), with 19 percent.

  • The last two weeks were a roller coaster. At the time of the first round, Kuczynski had held a slight lead over Fujimori, but only a week ago was trailing her by about five points.  An international economist and banker who had lived for long periods in the United States, Kuczynski lost support in part because, after the first round, he spent eight days in the U.S., exacerbating perceptions that he was more gringo than Peruvian, while Fujimori traveled to remote areas of Peru.  She claimed that, whereas her opponent favored big business, she favored small and medium business.  Also, in the first debate, Kuczynski, who is 77, appeared at a loss to counter Fujimori’s attacks.
  • In the last week, however, it was Kuczynski with the momentum. He effectively communicated integrity and a commitment to democracy just as memories of the corruption and authoritarianism during the government of Fujimori’s father were revived.  A scandal implicating the head of her party, Joaquín Ramírez, in money laundering gradually took a toll, especially when her vice-presidential candidate was believed to have orchestrated the broadcast of a doctored audiotape in an effort to clear Ramírez’s name.  Fujimori appeared to believe that “the best defense is a good offense,” but her increasingly confrontational style and dismissive tone may have been a factor in the decision by third-place Mendoza to strongly endorse Kuczynski.  In the second debate a week ago Sunday, Kuczynski emphasized that Fujimori could not be trusted to keep her key pledge to fight crime when Ramírez and other leaders of her party were under criminal investigation.

The presidential campaign has reflected deep polarization and tensions since at least March, when electoral authorities disqualified two important candidates – Julio Guzmán and César Acuña – for violations of party and electoral regulations. Guzmán’s party had not kept to the letter of its internal party statutes and Acuña handed out cash at a campaign rally.  The disqualifications prompted OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to label Peru only “semi-democratic.”  A key problem was that the laws were not consistently enforced; most saliently, Fujimori, captured on video passing out prizes at a campaign event, was not disqualified.  Strains are likely to remain high this week, and could grow worse after ONPE’s final announced tally at the end of the week.  Fujimori’s followers, embracing the polls showing her lead prior to election day, may cry foul if a Kuczyinski victory is declared.  Many of Kuczyinski’s and Mendoza’s followers, for their part, intensely fear a return to Fujimorismo.  In this context, it is not impossible that disqualified candidates Guzmán and Acuña and their supporters could call for a total do-over.  Although serious, sustained instability remains unlikely, Peru’s 2016 election is by far its most problematic since the country’s return to democracy in 2001.

(Previous analyses on the Peruvian election are available here and here.)

June 6, 2016

* Cynthia McClintock is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

Political Upheaval in South America

By Eric Hershberg

MarchaVenezuela

Thousands of protesters in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Photo Credit: Google Images / Creative Commons

2016 is proving to be this century’s most complicated year to date for South American political systems, and the coming months will be critical to assessing how well the region’s democracies can govern amid declining economic conditions and spiraling corruption scandals.  Brazil and Venezuela – two very different systems with very different problems – are suffering the most visible crises.

  • In Venezuela, where the Bolivarian project has descended into an incompetent Putinism in the tropics, is collapsing under the weight of monumental mismanagement of the economy. Many of the ills of the Venezuelan petrostate predate Chavismo, but during a collapse in oil prices President Maduro has doubled-down on profligate economic policies introduced by Hugo Chávez, bringing the country to catastrophe made worse by increasingly draconian repression of loyal and disloyal opposition alike.
  • President Dilma Rousseff’s mismanagement of coalitions in a presidential system predicated on coalition-building has opened the way to political and economic implosion in Brazil.  Contrary to the fervent assertions of important segments of the Workers Party (PT), her impeachment does not precisely constitute a coup, but it may indeed amount to an ill-advised bending of institutional mechanisms by cynical legislators and aggressive judges, egged on by rightist sectors whose commitment to democracy is in fact dubious.  Dilma didn’t invent the corruption and footloose budgetary practices that have been her undoing, but her fall does respond to overwhelming popular rejection of her performance.  Interim President Temer’s appointment of an entirely white male cabinet that includes representatives of some of the country’s most retrograde interests suggests abandonment of many of the most laudable achievements of more than a decade under PT rule – and more backlash as well.

Other institutional crises may be on the horizon.  Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa pursued a high-risk strategy of debt-driven expansion of the state, which is not sustainable amid economic contraction.  Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s honeymoon may prove short-lived.  Much-needed economic reforms are likely to provoke even greater inflation and have already stoked resistance from the Peronist opposition.  Macri enjoys some unprecedented assets – for the first time non-Peronists also control the city and province of Buenos Aires– but Argentine public opinion overwhelmingly favors statist economic policies that he aims to dismantle, and no non-Peronist elected president has completed his term in office since the rise of Peronism as a political force.  Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, wounded by a drop in mineral export revenues and comparatively minor corruption allegations involving her daughter-in-law, reshuffled her cabinet earlier this month but continues to tank in the polls.  Latinobarómetro reports that 70 percent of Chileans believe their political system doesn’t work.

It’s not hard to envision other relatively stable South American democracies facing hard times ahead.  The June 5 presidential runoff in Peru could leave the country deeply polarized, especially if Keiko Fujimori, heiress to the country’s darkest episode in recent history, wins.  It is not a foregone conclusion that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his second term on a long-awaited and much-needed peace accord, will secure its ratification, risking lameduck status for the remainder of his administration.  If the presidents elsewhere appear to be weathering the storm, democratic governance nonetheless faces important challenges.  It would be rash to predict that democracy will fail the test – and that such failure will give rise to a new era of authoritarian rule – but it’s clear that the region will witness widespread instability during the coming years.

May 26, 2016

The Panama Papers: Damning Evidence Against Latin American Elites?

By Emma Fawcett* and Fulton Armstrong

Panama Papers

Photo Credit: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

The “Panama Papers” have revealed the reputed secret accounts and tax-evasion strategies of a number of Latin American leaders, but preexisting widespread perceptions that political and economic elites are corrupt may reduce the immediate shock value of the revelations.  More than 11 million documents leaked from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca – given an initial review by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – provide evidence of 215,000 arrangements by which 14,153 powerful and wealthy clients from around the world hid their money from the prying eyes of the media, tax collectors, and public-accountability experts.  Early reports already indicate Latin Americans – small-time players compared to the Russians and some Europeans – are among those mentioned.

  • The Petrobras scandal that has paralyzed Brazil will find further fuel in these files. Investigators in Operation Car Wash apparently had no knowledge of many accounts held by Petrobras officials.  A secret company linked to House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who’s leading the charge to impeach President Rousseff, reportedly figures prominently.
  • Argentine President Macri, his father, and brother reportedly had an offshore company for 10 years. They closed it in 2009, two years into Macri’s term as Buenos Aires mayor, but he did not report it.  The government says he was only “circumstantially” the CEO.
  • The president of the Chilean branch of Transparency International, Gonzalo Delaveau, resigned because he was linked to at least five offshore companies.
  • Mexican President Peña Nieto’s association with tycoon-contractor Juan Armando Hinojosa, who reportedly had a massive array of shelters worth US$100 million, is once again a liability. The President was dragged through the mud – and eventually exonerated of personal involvement – over a mansion that Hinojosa allegedly gave to his wife.  The Mexican government is investigating several dozen others named in the documents.
  • Many other cases are in the wings. Pedro Delgado (former governor of Ecuadorian Central Bank and cousin of President Correa); financial backers of Peruvian Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori; and an array of former central bank and intelligence officials – Peruvians, Venezuelans, Panamanians, and others – are all being looked at.  In El Salvador, the Attorney General, already criticized for his investigative zeal, has raided Mossack Fonseca’s offices, suggesting more revelations to come.

Allegations of tax evasion, hidden income, and other forms of corruption are a mainstay of Latin American political lifeand the Panama revelations will only aggravate the oft-held opinion that rich, powerful people play by their own rules to maintain wealth and power.  Ramón Fonseca, one of the founders of the law firm, claims that the publicity is part of “an international campaign against privacy,” which he called “a sacred human right [and] there are people in the world who do not understand that.”  The backlash against someone like Argentine President Macri may not be too great, especially because his family ended the tax haven years ago.  But what makes the allegations potentially disruptive is the number of people implicated – across public and private sectors – in so many countries, in an investigation that has only just begun.  Further revelations are sure to come and, although themselves a sign of transparency, challenge people’s faith that leaders will come clean.  The revelations will fuel popular cynicism and discontent in the short term, but renewed demands for transparency may eventually help rekindle popular confidence in government.

April 11, 2016

*Emma Fawcett is a PhD candidate in International Relations at American University.   Her doctoral thesis focuses on the political economy of tourism and development in four Caribbean case studies: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Mexican Caribbean.

Peru Elections 2016: Back to the Future?

By Jo-Marie Burt*

Peru Elections 2016

Photo Credits: Huhsunqu, Alex Albornoz, Alianza para el Progreso, Fuerza 2011, and Peruanos por el Kambio (modified) / Wikimedia / Creative Commons

Peruvian electoral authorities’ decision last month to disqualify two candidates in this weekend’s first-round presidential election has conjured up the ghosts of one of the most disputed elections in recent Latin American history: the “re-re-election” of Alberto Fujimori in 2000.  Large demonstrations this week against the candidacy of the strongman’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori, were a rejection of the corruption and authoritarianism of the past – as well as the electoral fraud that kept him in power.  The two candidates were disqualified for technical violations of campaign laws.  Newcomer Julio Guzmán, who polls indicated commanded around 20 percent of the vote, was punished because his party failed to follow certain registration norms, and the other, César Acuña, was accused of giving away gifts above newly set limits.  Local observers point out, however, that other leading parties are guilty of similar missteps but have faced no penalties.  Video and testimonials show, for example, Keiko Fujimori attended events where cash “prizes” were handed out.

The disqualifications have put the spotlight on the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which disqualified candidate Julio Guzmán asked to investigate the decisions.  Postponing the election would be extremely disruptive, particularly because other political groups in Peru, which have benefited from Guzmán’s exclusion, have seized on the immediate political advantage.  The possibility that uneven application of the electoral rules might taint the credibility of the eventual winner is not their immediate concern.

  • The two immediate beneficiaries are Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (known by his initials PPK, which also identify his party, Peruanos por el Kambio), and Verónica Mendoza of the left-wing Frente Amplio. At 15-20 percent each, they are jockeying for second and third place behind Fujimori (30-35 percent), but the real race is in the runoff on June 5 that will take place in the likely event that no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote.  In the 2011 elections, Fujimori won the first round, but lost in the runoff vote to Ollanta Humala.  Fujimorismo has a hard-core following of 25-30 percent of the voting public, but a majority of the population also has a negative opinion of her.

Peruvian elections had come a long way since Alberto Fujimori fled office in 2000.  (In 2009, he was sentenced to prison for 25 years for human rights violations, corruption, and abuse of authority.)  Free and fair elections were held in 2001, 2006, and 2011 – marking the first time in Peruvian history that two democratically elected presidents consecutively handed the presidential sash over to successors.  Whether politically motivated or merely the result of incompetence, electoral authorities’ apparently one-sided handling of this year’s campaign has created an appearance of favoritism discrediting the electoral process itself.  The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has already referred to these elections as “semi-democratic.”  Others speak openly of fraud.  The potential damage is compounded by popular concerns that Keiko Fujimori represents a return to the authoritarian and corrupt tactics that characterized her father’s decade in power.  Her detractors say that she is not simply her father’s daughter; she served as his First Lady and benefited from the corruption of his regime (for example, she testified before Congress that she accepted cash from intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos to pay for her college education).  Keiko has acknowledged “errors” (but not “crimes) were committed during her father’s government, and she continues to say her father’s regime was the “best” Peru has ever had.  These were bound to be contentious elections due to the divisive legacy Keiko Fujimori represents, as the massive nationwide demonstrations marking the April 5 “self-coup” on Tuesday made clear.  But the uneven application of the law by electoral authorities raises even more serious questions about Peru’s democratic institutions.

 April 7, 2016

*Jo-Marie Burt is Director of Latin American Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Peru’s 2016 Elections: Will Old-timers Retain the Lead?

By Cynthia McClintock*

Photo Credit: A.Davey / Flickr / Creative Commons

Photo Credit: A.Davey / Flickr / Creative Commons

The big surprise of Peru’s presidential campaign – for elections about four months from now – is that there have been no surprises.  All three frontrunners in the April 10 first round are old-timers, not newcomers or outsiders.  Although Peru’s political parties are among the weakest in Latin America, two of the three lead institutionalized parties.  Further, in a country where the winners since 2001 have been roughly at the center-left of the ideological spectrum, all three of the current leaders are at the right or center-right.

Two main explanations for this emerge:

  • One is that Peruvian voters are reacting against the administration of incumbent Ollanta Humala. A former military officer, Humala burst into Peru’s electoral arena as a fiery leftist outsider in 2006 and won a plurality in the first round but lost the runoff.  For the 2011 election, he moderated his positions considerably and prevailed.  But his political party has remained inchoate and, in part as a result, Humala is now perceived as opportunistic and weak.  Humala has delivered on promises of social inclusion to a degree, but economic growth has stalled – so Peruvians may now be reasoning that it is time to prioritize growth.
  • Probably more likely, however, is that it is yet early in Peru’s presidential campaign. Even as late as three months before elections, Peru’s opinion polls are often very wrong, almost always exaggerating the support for rightist candidates.  In January 1990, Mario Vargas Llosa was leading with 53 percent, compared to 15 percent for his nearest rival, but lost the runoff in a landslide.  Lourdes Flores was leading in January 2006, and Alejandro Toledo in January 2011, but neither even reached the runoff.

The current three front-runners have strengths, but also liabilities.

  • The candidate who has topped the opinion polls for more than a year is Keiko Fujimori. She is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori who, despite conviction on charges of human rights violations and corruption, retains support as the president who presided over the decimation of the Shining Path insurgency.  Her “Fujimorista Party” has a fervent base in both urban and rural areas.  Keiko was the runner-up in Peru’s 2011 election, but she struggled to achieve a balance between respect for her father and distance from his abuses.  She is likely to have the same challenge in 2016.
  • Currently second in the polls with roughly 22 percent is Pedro Pablo Kucznyski. He can take credit for excellent economic growth during the Toledo administration (2001-2006), when he was economics minister and prime minister, and there are no corruption charges against him despite many years in government.  In 2011, he ran an excellent campaign and finished third.  But he will be 77 next year, and he has many U.S. business connections (and until now a U.S. passport), which could hurt him.
  • Running third with about 10 percent is Alan García, the long-standing leader of Peru’s most-institutionalized party, APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance). García is a brilliant campaign strategist, and he can cite superb economic growth during his 2006-2011 presidential term.  However, he is also widely perceived as Peru’s most corrupt political leader.

Surprises are inherently impossible to predict – but not impossible to imagine.  Peru’s left is divided and poorly financed, and its heyday has probably passed, but the candidate nominated a few weeks ago by the Broad Front, Verónika Mendoza, a congresswoman from Cusco and psychologist who studied in France, has the potential to appeal to diverse sectors of Peruvians.  As in many Latin American countries, corruption scandals are at the forefront in Peru, and a candidate who has participated in successful anti-corruption efforts – but whose name doesn’t occupy headlines – could emerge and turn the race upside down.

November 5, 2015

* Cynthia McClintock is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.