Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

In Peru, Deciding Between “Left” and “Right”

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Peru is about to be divided, again. With the vote count nearly complete, it looks like the pre-election polls were spot on: first place is Ollanta Humala and second place is Keiko Fujimori. Exit polls also indicate that their two respective parties, Gana Perú and Fuerza 2011, won the most seats in Congress.

What would an Ollanta Humala presidency look like? Would he live up to his campaign promise to be a more center-left candidate, or would he backtrack on his recent character transformation? The problem is: no one knows. During the campaign, he appealed to the mainstream Peruvian electorate by portraying himself as a political centrist and Catholic conservative, and by shying away from his close ties with Presidents Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales. He has tried to portray himself as more like former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. However, many Peruvians—including several investors—believe this is just a façade. Predictions of an Humala victory have contributed to the biggest jump in the cost of insuring Peruvian sovereign debt in five years and the Peruvian Nuevo Sol has declined by 1.6 percent since March 20. We do know that Humala has said he might try to reform the constitution, redistribute wealth through a “national market economy,” and start a government pension program for the elderly.

And, what would a Fujimori presidency look like? It is possible it would look a lot like her father’s, with the first step being a pardon for Alberto Fujimori who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption. Nevertheless, Keiko Fujimori appealed to some voters because of her father’s record on the economy, anti-terrorism and populism—he frequently gave away goods and services to remote regions overlooked by other governments. Her presidency is not expected to be much different and there is no guarantee that she would adhere to democratic principles.

A runoff between Humala and Fujimori will be very close, as both appeal to constituencies that have felt neglected for the past five years. According to some experts, it will be one of the closest and most polarizing runoff scenarios in years.  The election could even get personal because of the conflict between Humala and Alberto Fujimori in 2000, when Humala seized control of a mining town and led a protest against corruption.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts about the first-round election is that it seemed to be less about the individual candidates and more of a referendum on current President Alan García. One thing is for sure: it clearly illustrated the consequences of Peru’s weak political party system. Despite high GDP growth over the past five years, low-income Peruvians have not felt wealth trickle down to them. García’s approval rating was an abysmal 26 percent just before Sunday’s election. In the end, Peruvians voted for two extreme candidates, and chose to stay away from the centrist candidates who are more closely aligned with García. The centrist votes were split between Alejandro Toledo, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and Luis Castañeda—causing a majority win for both extremes. In this case, economic growth was not backed by social reform, and the voters demonstrated their resentment.

Another problem was the lack of strong political parties. One can’t help noticing the striking absence of Fuerza Social presidential candidate Susana Villarán, despite her Obama-esque mayoral campaign. Moreover, APRA—García’s party—failed to put forth a presidential candidate and didn’t even endorse one of the centrist candidates until only a few days before the election. As a result, the June 5 runoff is between two last names, not two parties. On that day, Peruvians will tell us which extreme they prefer: left or right.

*Sabrina Karim is a contributing blogger to AQ Online and is currently living in Lima, Peru as part of a Fulbright Fellowship.


Sabrina Karim was a 2010 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Peru, affiliated with Grupo de Análisis para Desarrollo (GRADE). She specializes in issues related to security, gender, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency.  She is currently a PhD candidate in political science at Emory University. 

Tags: Alan García, Keiko Fujimori, Ollanta Humala, Peru
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