Colourless campaign heads into final stretch

 With, as before, Fujimori and Kuczynski leading the polls

By Nicholas Asheshov ✐

PPK and Keiko Fujimori presidential bids What catches the eye from the polls less than two weeks before the elections is that more than a third of the electorate have it seems not decided for who they are going to vote.

This is not the same as the people who are fed up, who will run a line through their ballot sheet as a protest. It is just those who haven’t an idea for whom they will mark their ballot paper. This applies especially to Congress. The biggest section of these Don’t Knows, according to IPSOS, Peru’s top pollster, are women, outside Lima, possibly the single biggest category of the 15 million-odd Peruvians who will be voting.

The elections, for the presidency and for the 2016-21 130-person Congress, takes place on Sunday, April 10. For the presidency, the first two past the post go forward to a run-off on June 5, the winner being the one with more than 50 percent of the valid votes. Voting on both days is obligatory.

The polls say that Keiko Fujimori, 39, will, with 37 percent, on April 10 carry the day against Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, with 17-18 percent —his final score in the 2011 election where he was placed third — of the votes. Fujimori and Kuczynski would then go head to head in the final round on June 5.

This second round could, according to the polls, go either way though the impressive numbers of Don’t Knows might give the edge to Fujimori. There are even some who see a possibility that Fujimori, with the best-known brand name, could bring together a winning 50 percent+1 immediate win on April 10.

Whether or not this is a possibility it is a commentary on, Kuzcynski aside, the featureless quality of the field. There is no clash here of big political personalities or of big-name Left vs Right parties.

Whichever, Fujimori or Kuczynski would be a low-confrontation outcome for a majority of Peruvians, again according to the polls. This year the electorate has been offered, or maybe just looking for, a middle-of-the-middle administration run by hopefully competent names for the coming five years.

If so, this would be a successful outcome. In reality it would be a sharp change to the past five years of the Humala government, which has slid from pillar to wandering post. It has, however, stayed clear, well clear, of the political and economic disasters of Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. A Kuczynski government, run in association with the Fujimoris, could bounce the country back in short order. Whoever is president, the Fujimoris will have effective control of the Congress. It will be a big change for the better to have a more disciplined, probably more talented legislative body.

Whether it is Fujimori or Kuzcynski, either would be the safest outcome to a poorly-administered, confusing campaign. The lack of powerful, well-financed, disputatious parties and personalities who would certainly challenge the political legality of the newly-published rules and regulations. These were put together without talent, thought and deliberation by the Congress towards the end of 2015.

Some of the rules have turned out to be unworkable, just this side of incomprehensible. These saw Cesar Acuña and Julio Guzman, two prominent candidates thrown off the ballot sheet only weeks before the voting. Legal challenges are still on the table to both Fujimori and to PPK though in both cases these seem to have drifted off the front pages in the past few days.

The disputes have centred round whether or not candidates have broken the new regulations by publicly handing over gifts and money to the voters. The evidence has been provided by cellphone video sequences, often difficult to make out. The big one centred on whether Fujimori herself handed envelopes with S/.300, a bit less than $100, to contestants at a Valentine’s Day dance Was it Fujimori who handed over the envelopes, or just an aide? Was it her money?

The Elections administrators decided No on these and related. But Cesar Acuña himself did not hand over money. It was an aide who did the deed, and off-camera. But, yes, it had been Acuña’s own money.

Kuczynski was brought before the elections people for handing over a small bag of coca leaves to a sierra campesina. Fujimori’s second vice presidential candidate was removed from the ballot for associating himself with a hand-out of cans of tuna to needy campesinas.

The detailed legal arguments on these and others were at the level of medieval monks arguing about how many angels might fit on the head of a pin. One big decision on Fujimori by the elections board was issued at 12:25 a.m. on Easter Thursday.

It has been a poor showing, unusual in Peru’s elections tradition.

The elections officials may, however, have been more useful in bringing oversight to the selection by parties of their would-be Congress men and women. The present Congress has contained people with active criminal, including drugs, records.

Strong Congress

This may help to make the incoming Congress more stable and productive. IPSOS is predicting that Fujimori may have a solid 50 congresspeople with Kuczynski half that, the rest scattered through lesser parties. (CPI puts the figure even higher, with up to 70 lawmakers for the Fujimori candidates.)

This is a big change. The new president, PPK or Keiko Fujimori, will have not just two solid blocs, but a majority which will strengthen and streamline lawmaking. This will be a major novelty for Peru in this century.

The other, related, change is that both PPK and Fujimori have gone to a lot of trouble to persuade well qualified people to join the ranks in Congress. This in itself will give the the 2016-21 government a clear headedness that Peru has not seen in the Congress for half a century.

The two most prominent also-ran presidential candidates are Alfredo Barnechea and Veronica Mendoza. Barnechea, representing Accion Popular has poll numbers of 12-13 percent and Mendoza, leading a far-left Frente Amplio, 8-9 percent.

Alan Garcia, 65, president 1985-90 and 2006-11, has edged down out of the running to around 4 percent in the polls.

Nick Asheshov was editor of the Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times during the 1970s and 1980s, and of The South Pacific Mail, Santiago during the 1990s.  He was Latin America Editor of Institutional Investor, New York over the same period.  He lives in Urubamba, where he writes a blog and where he has been prominent in the hotel and railway business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *