Uncertainty shrouds Peru’s presidential race

Ollanta Humala wasted no time in getting back onto the campaign trail after losing Peru’s presidential election in 2006 to Alan García. Less than four months after that defeat, he was out, trying to rally support for a list of mostly unknown candidates in local and regional elections.

He led a ragtag caravan through Lima’s impoverished shantytowns under a banner that read: “Ollanta for President 2011.”

At the time, he had all but been written off. His “nationalist” coalition had won 45 seats in Peru’s 120-member Congress, the largest bloc, compared to 36 for García’s Aprista party. But the number of lawmakers loyal to Humala quickly fell to 22 after defections and political infighting over complaints he had shifted too far to the left.

“I have no illusions. I have to build the party,” Humala, who brought Peru to the brink of radical change, told The Associated Press. “There is a lot of time before 2011 and a lot of things can happen.”

Now here we are.

Humala and his Gana Peru party are the clear winners of the first round in Peru’s presidential elections held April 10, followed by Keiko Fujimori and her Fuerza 2011 party. By noon on April 11, the elections board confirmed that 86 percent of the valid votes showed Humala with 30.9 percent and Fujimori 23.6 percent.

Pedro Pablo Kuczcynski and his Alianza para el Gran Cambio, maintaining a very close margin with Fujimori until late Sunday night, expressed his disappointment and accepted his defeat when the gap widened from 0.9 percent to more than 3 percent as rural votes began coming in, confirming the exit polls.

The results immediately led TV pundits to speculate that in the second round 70 percent of the electorate who did not vote for Humala would probably back Keiko Fujimori.  However, both Santiago Pedraglio and Fernando Rospigliosi, political analysts on different TV programs Sunday night, do not believe that result is guaranteed, given the volatility of the electorate and the strong rejection many voters have towards both candidates.

Humala plans to amend the Constitution and allow the state a much bigger role in the economy, terrifying the business community as well as many Peruvians who believe the country has changed for the better in the past 20 years.

On the other hand, Keiko Fujimori will obviously continue the free market economy her father, imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori, applied in his 1990-2000 government. But many fear that she could usher in a new era of the corruption and strong-arm tactics used by her father. Her congressional slate is rife with her father’s former adherents who rubber-stamped his anti-democratic measures.

One of her two vice-presidents is Rafael Rey, defense minister during President Garcia’s government, and an ultra-right wing member of the Opus Dei.

“This is a totally new campaign, and there is no way of forecasting the results yet,” said analyst and Metrica polling company director, Julio Luque, to Channel 4 TV’s Rosa Maria Palacios.

Alejandro Toledo, who came in fourth with 15.1 percent of the vote, said the election results were a wake-up call, particularly to the political and financial forces in the country, indicating the need to strengthen three fundamental issues – democracy and freedom of expression, the respect for human rights, and continuation of the current economic growth but with greater emphasis on social issues.

Several analysts have put the blame for the election results squarely on President Garcia’s shoulders.  The country’s economy has never been as strong as it is now, yet Garcia failed to capitalize on the opportunity to make real changes in education, health and infrastructure in the neediest sectors of the population.

“Five years of Alan Garcia, with a growing economy and GNP on automatic pilot, did nothing to improve the lives of those who again are seeking a change,” wrote Santiago Pedraglio in his Peru21 column.

“I have no doubt that the person principally responsible for this scenario is Garcia,” said Carlos Basombrio in an interview on IDL Radio. The political analyst and former vice-minister of the Interior during the Toledo administration added that, “On the one hand, the vote is that of a country expressing its dissatisfaction, but secondly Garcia legitimized Fujimorism as a viable political force, and thirdly he accused Toledo of being a candidate playing god.”

“I am not surprised, nor uncomfortable, I am not alarmed or frightened, that 30 percent of Peruvians say ‘we were not given potable water, I wasn’t given a job’,” President Garcia said when he recognized that Ollanta Humala “expressed the anxiety” of part of the population that “wants more works and more attention.”

Yet the dissatisfaction with Garcia has much more to do with his administration’s procrastination in facing difficult situations and its general disregard towards fundamental issues such as indigenous rights when they have clashed with private interests and investment.  Garcia’s term is riddled with situations that could have been diffused but were left until it was too late.

In 2004 the mayor of Ilave, Puno, was kidnapped and killed after several weeks of increasingly violent protests  and the Public Ombudsman held the regional and national governments directly responsible for not seeking solutions to the charges of corruption.

Similarly, Ombudsman Beatriz Merino warned that the tragic death of 14 policemen and 10 indigenous protesters at Bagua could have been avoided in 2009 – Merino later worked closely with members of Congress to write a law on Prior Consultation with Indigenous Peoples, governing steps to be taken prior to private development in their territories. The bill was passed but President Garcia returned it to Congress with observations and it has yet to be enacted.

At the time of the Bagua deaths, Garcia angrily questioned the indigenous communities’ right to make demands since they were not ‘first-class citizens‘ while the Interior minister, Mercedes Cabanillas, asked if she should not take responsibility for the events, said “Am I the one who had the feather on my head?”

The most recent situation is that of the refusal by communities in Islay, Arequipa to allow the development of the Tia Maria copper project by Southern Copper. The protests turned violent after several weeks of little communication with authorities, and the government finally postponed the approval of the project, on grounds that the environmental impact study had not been approved, but this was only after three people were killed and more than 30 injured.

But hindsight does not change the election results, and now the campaign begins between Humala and Fujimori for the run-off to be held June 5.

The key will be to convince the middle class voters, since both candidates have garnered their first-round votes from among the poorest sectors of the population, the C, D, and E sectors in both the rural and urban areas.

Daniel Abugattas, one of Humala’s leading spokesmen and re-elected to Congress, recognized that Gana Peru will need to reach a consensus with all the political parties in Congress on fundamental issues of governance,  and Humala did mention the need to build bridges in his speech after the results were announced.

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  1. Like so many who are quick to judge badly anything and anyone who is left of center, you have proven yourself to be not a journalist, but a ideologue. The neo-liberal program of removing all controls from industry and banking has proven fatal in the US and Europe and the people there are suffering mightily for that. Next time try remembering to be nonjudgemental before writing.

  2. Not only Peru but for all Latinamerica, it is time to work on developing some competitive advantages and create strong economic segments that can provide a decent future for the majority of the populations. Education still a huge problem, too many professionals and no jobs, opportunities for only a few and escalating frustration in the rest. Time to wake up! How about a 5 or 10 year plan or an institution that can oversee sustained development. We still live in the short term and based on individual leaders instead of organizations.

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