Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

From Peru. Lima’s Close Mayoral Race

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Susana Villarán appears to have squeaked into Lima’s mayorship with the narrowest of margins, amid fearmongering that the human rights activist could be a “trojan horse” for radical leftists.

Villarán, a moderate, will be Lima’s first leftist mayor since 1983, and the first elected female mayor in five centuries.

With 58.4 percent of the votes counted, Villarán had 38.95 percent, compared with Lourdes Flores, a lawyer and two-time presidential candidate, who secured 36.85 percent. Fernando Tuesta, a respected pollster at Lima’s Catholic University, told Peruvian daily La Republica the margin giving Villarán a victory, although small, was almost certain to stick.

With Peru’s economy bouncing back strongly from last year’s global recession, Lima is benefiting from a boom in construction, strong inflows of foreign direct investment and the rapid growth of a new middle class.

Yet poverty remains a blight in Lima, where a quarter of its 8 million inhabitants still lack basic services such as running water and sewage.

Having lived through the bloody Maoist inspired Shining Path insurgency, many Peruvians are understandably fearful of the radical left. Ms. Villarán has taken great pains to paint herself as a gentler, kinder, verging on capitalist lefty in the mould of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Chile’s Michelle Bachelet. She deliberately distanced herself from the region’s best-known firebrand, Hugo Chávez, and Peru’s Ollanta Humala, who narrowly lost to president Alan García in 2006.

She has promised efficiency, better environmental regulation and clean and honest government, all good things that world-weary Limenos will believe only when they see results.

One of the big questions for analysts now is whether a leftist mayor in Lima—or a swing left in the regions—will translate into a surge in support for a leftist presidential candidate.

Peru’s left is somewhat fractured, however, and lacks a centrist “Lula” type figure who would appeal to the expanding middle class. Mr. Humala, the strongest figure, is running in third place in opinion polls at present. Alberto Pizango, leader of the indigenous umbrella organisation Aidesep, has signalled he wants to start his own party, and Marco Arana, an activist environmentalist priest, has founded a “Land and Liberty” movement.

Keiko Fujimori, Alejandro Toledo and outgoing Lima mayor Luis Castañeda currently lead the pack of centrist or conservative candidates who will appeal to those reluctant to rock the boat after the period of economic growth and relative stability since 2001.


*Naomi Mapstone is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. She is a journalist based in Lima, Peru.
(Homepage photograph by REDIM.)



Naomi Mapstone is the Andean correspondent for the Financial Times, based in Lima, Peru. Formerly the FT's deputy U.S. news editor, she now divides her time between Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Tags: Fernando Tuesta, Lima, Lourdes Flores, Mayoral race, Susana Villarán
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