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Two Women and the Battle for One City

The race for mayor of Lima has gotten a little more interesting over the last month. With the news that Alex Kouri, who was almost neck and neck with Lourdes Flores in the polls, is not eligible to run for mayor of Lima, because he does not live within the city limits. The race is now centered on two women: Lourdes Flores and Susana Villarán.

Lima has never seen a female alcalde before (nor a female president). However, this year, the polls show that it is likely that one of these two women will win the mayoral race. While Lourdes has dropped in the polls, Susana has surged, gaining points weekly. She has presented herself to be the clean candidate, with no scandals or corruption charges, while Lourdes has been the target of a number of political games.

Although both women have in the past advocated for women rights, in this campaign, neither has played up their gender. Despite being female and middle class, there is little else in common between the two candidates.

Lourdes Flores leads the Partido Popular Christiano party. She has run for president twice before, coming in second place. She is a lawyer by training and has served in Congress. Susana Villarán leads the Fuerza Social movement and was Women’s Minister in 2002, and has served as the ombudsman for the national police. She has always been a champion for human rights and has run for President, coming in seventh place.

The battle for the seat has turned to ideology, and increasingly to attacks. Lourdes is considered the center-right candidate and Susana, the leftist candidate. Lourdes recently attacked Susana calling her a “izquierdamiraflorena,” meaning that she is a bourgeois candidate who hardly knows the life of the poor, despite claiming to be “their” candidate. Lourdes has also attacked Susana’s connections to radical leftist groups, claiming that she is “soft on terrorism.” Susana’s response has been to point out these personal attacks and continue a clean campaign. She has responded to the criticism by focusing on her political agenda.

Susana does have ties to some radical leftist groups such as Patria Roja. They compose a very minimal part of her base. The other interesting fact is that even though she appears to be the candidate championing the cause of the poor, she does not have the popular support of that base. Rather most of her support is from middle to upper-class Limeños who tend to lean leftist.

However, Lourdes does not have the support of the lower class base, who compose 150 million households either. It is obvious that this group will not vote in block. Come election day, it will be interesting to see for whom the majority of this unaccounted for base votes. This might explain why the campaigns of late have focused on spending as much time as possible in Lima’s numerous slums. As much as the candidates want to avoid a class war, the lower class just may hold the key to winning the battle for the city of Lima.

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

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Peru, Election

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