Peru 2011

A presidential runoff election was held in Peru on June 5, 2011. I covered the first round held April 10 and prior to that had previewed the election with a run-through of Peruvian politics and the presidential contenders. The second round opposed left-wing candidate Ollanta Humala to right-wing populist candidate Keiko Fujimori. Humala, a Quechua and former military officer, was defeated by Peru’s outgoing President Alan García in the 2006 runoff. Fujimori, a congresswoman, is the daughter of former authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2001) who is currently serving 25 years in jail for corruption and human rights violations.

The runoff election was a very interesting contest, because it pitted two very polarizing candidates against one another. Mario Vargas Llosa, who never misses an opportunity to get his name out there and make a snide remark, previously said that the runoff was a choice between AIDS and terminal cancer. These two polarizing candidates, who would probably both have lost to more centrist candidates, got into the runoff because the “moderate” vote was split between three candidates and because Humala and Fujimori were the two candidates with the most motivated base. They were also the most polarizing candidates, with over 40% of voters saying they would never vote for either. Such runoffs between negatively polarizing candidates are often quite rare, and runoffs between negatively polarizing candidates who are of roughly equal strength are even rarer. A parallel might be drawn to Chirac-Le Pen in France in 2002, but this runoff had no Le Pen candidate, that is to say a candidate despised by a vast majority of voters. Both Humala and Fujimori were despised by a good lot of voters, but had a solid base of roughly similar size.

Ollanta Humala is a left-wing nationalist candidate. A Quechua (like roughly four in ten Peruvians) and a former military officer, the 48-year old Humala was defeated by current and outgoing President Alan García in the 2006 runoff. That year, Humala ran as a candidate mixing ethnic nationalism with Chavist socialism. Such combination was toxic, and Humala was seen as an insane authoritarian nutcase. This year, Humala toned down both the nationalism and socialism and instead cast himself as the left-wing candidate, promising to expand the fruits of Peru’s 5% economic growth to his native Amerindian base while upholding the market economy and macroeconomic policies which has allowed such strong (but unequal) economic growth. As such, he appeared to be remaking himself from the Peruvian Chávez to the Peruvian Lula.

Keiko Fujimori is widely known for being the daughter of former authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori, an elected autocrat whose neoliberal reforms allowed for strong economic growth and whose security policies eradicated the terrorist Sendero Luminoso organization but at the price of human rights violations, corruption and authoritarianism. As such, she invoked fear for many Peruvians but also appealed to poorer Peruvians who have a fonder memory of her father. Fujimori campaigned as a populist right-winger, which is different from the traditional Latin American right-winger who tends to represent liberal, urban wealthy (and, often, white) middle-class citizens. She promised to be tough on crime, maintain the market economy and expand its fruits to the poorest citizens. Finally, she probably would amnesty her father.

The Humala-Fujimori runoff took the common saying that voters choose the least worst candidate in runoffs to a whole new level. Given that voting is mandatory in Peru, voters had the choose which of the two they disliked the least (if they liked neither). It was an amusing process to watch, though it did not unfold very surprisingly. The right and the business community, which in Peru is largely mestizo and urban, backed Fujimori. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a liberal right-winger who won 18.5% in the first round and Luis Castañeda, a right-wing former Lima mayor who won 9.8% both endorsed Fujimori. The governing APRA did not make any official announcements but by far and large unofficially backed Keiko. The left had already united behind Humala in the first round, but he received the support of those who have reason to hate the Fujimori family the most. This included former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) who won 15.6% in the first round. Aside from being an old opponent of Fujimori, the centrist (or centre-right) former president is also of Amerindian ancestry. Humala also received the reluctant backing of Nobel laureate and 1990 right-wing presidential candidate (defeated by Keiko’s dad) Mario Vargas Llosa, who loathes the Fujimoris. No candidate ran away with a major lead at any point in the nearly two month period which separated both rounds. Humala led narrowly at first, but was overtaken by Keiko in May who had the lead going into the final stretch and final few days. But a string of final polls all gave Humala a narrow lead. It’s hard to say what caused the last-minute turnaround from Keiko to Humala. It might be last-minute fears of authoritarianism and a Fujimorista dynasty. It might be last-minute unease with Keiko’s father. It might also be proof of Peru’s conservative patriarchal society. Keiko was backed quite heavily by women, while Humala was backed by males. Perhaps some women bowed to the patriarchal tradition and changed their voting intentions (the old story of the wife “cancelling” the husband’s vote by voting differently).

The quasi-final results are as follows. There were 5.5% of invalid ballots, up from 2.3% on April 10. That result might reflect a small contingent of protest voters who refused to choose. But blank votes fell from 8.9% to 0.7%.

Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú) 51.48%
Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011) 48.52%

So, Humala won. He was probably the candidate who invoked the least fear about any return to dictatorship or authoritarianism (ironically, he did in 2006). Fujimori invoked fear because she failed to dissociate herself from her closest backers, which were largely old cronies of her father’s regime. She tacked to the right, while Humala managed to move towards the centre and downplay some of his past hard-left talk. Her defeat is probably a relief to many people, Peruvians and foreigners, who dislike her father and consider her to be an apologist for her father’s crimes. Humala’s promises to extend the fruits of prosperity and economic growth to Peru’s poorest also struck a chord in a country where 31% of the country is considered to be living in poverty.

Ollanta Humala received his strongest support in the sierra inland region of Peru, most notably the core of Peru’s Quechua and Aymara peoples who are his strongest backers. He won upwards of 60%, oftentimes over 70%, in most of this inland core region which notably includes the old Inca capital of Cuzco and Lake Titicaca. He also won other inland regions, but with narrower margins. These sparsely populated regions are largely inhabited by other ethnic Amerindian groups.

Keiko Fujimori’s base of support was found in the urban areas of Lima and Callao, where she won roughly 57%. Lima and Callao, which are traditional strongholds of the Peruvian right, are also located in the broader coastal region of Peru (which Keiko won most of) which is mostly populated by wealthier, whiter mestizos who have traditionally dominated Peruvian politics since independence. Her results within the capital city of Lima clearly show that the business sector and upper-classes, very strong backers of right-winger Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in the first round, heavily supported her as the least worst candidate. She won, for example, 80% of the vote in the Lima district of San Isidro which is the wealthiest place in the country. Fujimori also performed well on the northern coast, which is not as wealthy but is largely mestizo as well. These regions, most notably La Libertad (which includes the city of Trujillo) are APRA’s traditional strongholds. These regions are traditionally more working-class, with a history of unionized non-Amerindian labour in sugar plantations. She also won the votes of Peruvians abroad, probably largely wealthy businessmen and entrepreneurs, with 70.3%.

Humala would probably not have won if he had not clearly indicated as he did his commitment to the market economy. The pressure is on him to be a Lula as President, and not a Chávez. That pressure is heavy considering how distrustful investors and the market is of him: Lima’s stock exchange fell by over 12% on June 6 (but later recovered most of its loses). Humala has promised a government of national consensus and re-affirmed he would promote investment and the free market. His transition teams includes old names from Toledo’s centrist administration, and Humala might keep Julio Velarde, respected by investors, as head of the Central Bank. It also calms fears that Humala’s coalition has only 47 out of 200 seats and that Toledo’s coalition, which holds 21, will provide a calming force on Humala’s more radical ambitions which include (or included) changing the constitution (of Fujimorista creation). But Humala also speaks at lengths about poverty and social issues. He vows to expand a small cash-transfer program, expand child care and introduce pensions for those who lack them. Such stuff is not controversial and popular. More controversial are his plans for a windfall tax on mining and his prior opposition to the exportation of natural gas. The main cause of unease might be that Humala, unlike Lula, is not a pragmatic trade unionist and old democratic activist. Rather, Humala is a retired military officer who led one military rebellion and backed another led by his insane brother. Such a career and tough talk on crime appeals to the caudillo tradition of Latin America, but serves to scare off easily scared investors, businessmen and liberal elites.

Humala has a fantastic chance to be a successful president, if he can maintain the current high economic growth and combine it with more social equality and expand the fruits of prosperity to those who have yet to see its colour. But the success rate for Peruvian presidents is extremely low, and it seems as if all Presidents of Peru face huge odds to be competent let alone successful.

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Posted on June 9, 2011, in Peru. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The Economist podcast (which I highly recommend, btw) suggested this week that the last minute shift towards Humala might be done to a moment in the final debate.

    Humula apparently brought up questions surrounding a Fujimori sterilisation programme during his rule which is said by opponents to have forcibly sterilised 300,000 women under ‘family planning’ auspices, and particularly relating to one case who had just won a case in the Latin American human rights court over it. Keiko was apparently unprepared for this and stumbled around and according to the pollsters this moment was rather salient, ESPECIALLY with women voters. Considering the closeness of the final polls a few percentage points worth of female voters heading from Keiko to Humala over this moment would certainly be enough to explain his victory.

  2. As your preceding post showed, Peruvian politics seem to have been pretty depressing in the past. The 1st round was didn’t let many hope, but at least it’s good to see Peru will be spared from a new Fujimori rule. Let’s hope Humala will eventually keep his promises and not act like a nutjob.

  1. Pingback: 2011′s Top 10 « World Elections

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