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The Rise and Fall of Political Parties in Peru

For the last two election cycles in which Lourdes Flores has run for president, polls have always shown her with strong leads in the weeks before elections, but come election night, she has lost. This time she is running for mayor of Lima on the Partido Popular Cristiano political party ticket and it looks like the trend will continue. Recent revelations of her close ties to Cesar Castano, the owner of Peruvian Airlines, who is currently under suspicion of narco-trafficking, have caused her numbers to slide in the polls with the October elections fast approaching.

While this could signal yet another political disappointment for Lourdes, it also raises questions about the strength of her political party affiliation and Peru’s political party system overall. Perhaps, this is because the formal institutionalization of political parties under the Peruvian legal system did not happen until 2003. But there is also simply a culture of informality with political parties here. Parties are often created every election cycle to fill a vacuum of political institutions and ideas, but they are not sustainable. They are created out of necessity during elections years to organize campaigns rather than built over the long-term, based on political ideas and platforms.

Often, candidates in high profile races like Lima mayor or president form party alliances and then find candidates in the provinces and local areas to carry the name of the party bloc. After the election, the political party disappears only to be resurrected using the same name or another name in the next election cycle. Also common: political parties field candidates only at the municipal level and do not have national candidates or they are only national and struggle to find municipal candidates.

Another problem parties face is that they are often formed around a single figurehead. When that person leaves office, the strength of the party also falls. This is the case for President Alan Garcia’s political party, Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, (APRA). With Garcia’s term as president ending, APRA has struggled to find candidates to fill national and local posts because the strength of the party depended on Garcia’s candidacy and term as president. The same could be true for Partido Popular Cristiano, which has spent a lot of time and energy in creating a brand for the party. However, it remains to be seen if her new party will fall with Lourdes, assuming she loses and history repeats itself.

Although political parties have a turbulent history, Peruvian politicians and citizens can help strengthen the system.  For example, there has been a recent movement to create a primary voting system within the parties. This would help shift the image of parties from a single figurehead to a party with a platform. Another suggestion for party leaders would be to focus on branding a platform that is about more than just the vague promise of public works projects. At present, almost all the political parties and candidates have made nearly identical promises for reforms and public works projects.  The very essence of a political party, however, should be its platform of ideas or ideology.  If a party’s agenda is indistinguishable from the competition or its platform is reconstructed every election cycle, there is no foundation upon which to build longer-term voter party affiliation. Lastly, there needs to be more decentralization in the party system.  Almost all political party activity and power is centered in Lima.  To build a strong base, a political party must reach beyond the capital and into the arms of those living in el campo.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Lourdes Flores, Partido Popular Cristiano, Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana

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