[Marxism] Peru’s 2006 Presidential Elections: Still too close to call

Colin Brace cb at lim.nl
Fri Apr 7 13:18:22 MDT 2006


Friday, April 7, 2006

COHA Report:

Peru's 2006 Presidential Elections: Still too close to call, but
Humala should at least make it through round one and into the winner's

Three candidates are the main challengers to become Peru's next
president in the upcoming April 9 elections. Former coup leader and
retired military officer Ollanta Humala Tasso; conservative, pro-free
trade Lourdes Flores, and former President (1985-1990) Alan Garcia
Perez, have been more or less neck and neck in recent weeks, with
Humala coming up fast. Unfortunately, the candidate best prepared
ethically and intellectually – the Socialist candidate Javier Diaz
Canseco – is out of the running. Aside from a whole roster of domestic
issues that will be impacted by the race, the elections could very
well determine if Peru will become part of the "pink tide" wave that
is sweeping the continent. Meanwhile, Peru's poor are speaking out in
increased numbers, and the name they are now calling seems to be
Ollanta Humala.

Polls, numbers, possibilities
Up to a few weeks ago, Lourdes Flores was running ahead of the other
contenders with what analysts claimed was a clear lead of around 30%,
against the 20%, more or less, for both Humala and Garcia Perez.
Unfortunately for Flores, her advantage proved fleeting. Recent polls
by the polling firm APOYO (published on April 2), have suggested that
Humala has now risen to first place with around 30%, with Flores and
Garcia Perez trailing with 26 and 22% respectively. Most of the other
presidential candidates trail far behind, not even attracting 1% of
support. Former transition president (2000-2001) Valentin Paniagua is
at around 6%.

In what has become a cause for embarrassment for Peruvian polling
organizations because of their having to acknowledge this fact, the
prestigious APOYO polling firm was forced to admit that there likely
would be a "hidden vote" factor of around 40%. In other words, 40% of
Peruvians who will vote still have not decided which candidate for
whom they will vote. For this mass of voters, many will probably make
their decision only in the last moment, when they are at the polls.
This could give any of the three principal contenders almost an equal
shot at moving on to the next round.

One thing is clear from the current polls, no one candidate will
receive the votes needed to be elected president (50%) in the first
round, thus necessitating a second round run-off between the two top
contenders. This scenario, which parties, analysts and the general
public have long anticipated, has made deciphering Peru's electoral
future into a group of equations and likely scenarios which will be
accompanied by a sequence of uplifting rhetoric. In short, the
principal questions needing to be posed are: which two of the three
top contenders will pass on to the second round? And, what
behind-the-scenes deals and promises will be made by the two surviving
contenders in order to gain the support of other political parties and
voting blocs in the second round?

From Potatoes to Reggeaton – The Popular Vote
As usual in Third World nations, with Peru certainly not being the
exception, the mass of the population belongs to the lower class. In
Peru, a country with a population of around 25 million, the poverty
rate is over 50%. This means that there is a gigantic voter pool among
the lower classes of society (commonly referred to sections D and E by
polling groups and political analysts), with Peru's humble and meek
almost certainly determining the identity of the country's next
president. These individuals are the ones who do not necessarily watch
nighttime political talk shows on TV (assuming they have TVs) nor care
much about a candidate's overall policies except how it will
immediately affect them. In recent months, all three candidates have
strived to make themselves appear to be "one of the people." For
Ollanta Humala, becoming this meant resorting to such activities as
presenting himself in the most visible scenario in Peru: a soccer
match. Last March, during a match between two of the most popular
teams in Peru, Alianza Lima and Universitario de Deportes, a man in a
glider suddenly appeared in the sky and then proceeded to land in the
middle of the field, in front of over 30,000 fans present in the
stadium and millions watching the match via TV, which, because of its
importance was being shown nationwide. The man in the glider had a big
board tied to him bearing the name, "Ollanta Humala."

Meanwhile, Lourdes Flores has been invigorating her campaign by making
a habit of visiting shantytowns and rural areas to elicit support. By
now, she has become well known for going to various neighborhoods to
eat the local cuisine as well as dance traditional Peruvian dances
like the marinera. Not surprisingly, these attempts to become popular
among the masses have not always worked too well for Flores. In a
recent visit to Arequipa, in Peru's southern region, people threw
rotten fruit and empty plastic bottles at her. Finally, Alan Garcia
Perez' APRA party came up with the idea to capitalize on the reggeaton
music craze sweeping Latin America today, launching a long commercial
of a dancing red star (the party's symbol) and singing a reggeaton
song in its praise.

The "Humala" Craze
But it has been Humala's candidacy that has become the spice of the
Peruvian elections and which has brought international attention to
the contest. He has essentially become the Peruvian Hugo Chávez as
both he and the Venezuelan president share much in common. They are
both former military officers, both led failed coup uprisings and then
turned to politics, and both are immensely popular with the masses.
Even though he does not have Chávez's great communication skills when
giving speeches, Humala has secured a place in the hearts and minds of
millions of impoverished Peruvians because he speaks in simple terms
and because is not considered part of the traditional parties that for
long have ruled the country. For the masses, these factors are what
brings them to Humala's tumultuous rallies – they are also drawn by
the candidates pledge to break existing agreements to fumigate coca
plants, veto any free-trade agreement which is signed by the outgoing
President Toledo, and link his country's hemispheric policy to the
broad "Pink Tide" movement led by Chávez.

Peru's Future Obstacles and Humala's solutions
The legacy of the Alejandro Toledo presidency (2001-2006) couldn't be
more sour. The next president will have a wide number of issues, both
domestic and international, to face. The country's economy is still
very fragile and at the mercy of international markets. A lot has been
written about a possible free trade agreement with Washington (which
Lourdes Flores supports). Toledo declared that he would sign the FTA
after the first round of elections, but before the likely run-off (May
9). The president of the Peruvian congress, Marcial Ayaipoma, has
declared that in May, congress would deliberate on the agreement and
vote on it by June, just before the new president and congress are
scheduled to take power on July 28. In other words, Toledo and his
legislative confederates intend to thwart a prospective Humala victory
by staging a de facto coup against the principle commitment of the
Humala campaign – blocking the enactment of the FTA. In addition to
the FTA with the U.S., there is also the issue of China. President
Toledo has attempted to increase trade ties with China, a decision
which worked against him and which has increased his unpopularity, as
Peruvian workers and business leaders express their concerns about the
destabilizing effects such ties will have on Peru's economy. For
example, China showed particular interest in increasing exports of
textiles and pharmaceuticals to Peru, a move which would have put
thousands of Peruvian micro-industries at risk.

Worker protests still occur on a weekly basis someplace in the
country, usually with similar demands: more jobs, better wages, better
working conditions. Toledo, formerly with the World Bank has argued
that economic neoliberalism was the answer to the country's problems –
however whatever minor successes he might have had (the country's
economy has indeed grown the past few years, increasing by 6.7% in
2005) have fallen way short when it comes to improving the living
standards of Peruvians in general. This is the issue for which Humala
has received the most criticism. His declarations about how his
government would revisit previously signed state contracts and the
hinted possibility of reverting some industries back to state control
have, on some occasions, brought down Lima's stock exchange as
investors express their fear over what Peru's economy and trade
balance would look like if Humala is elected. It has been repeatedly
stated by his political opponents that if Ollanta is elected and what
appear to be his extreme radical nationalist ideas become ascendant,
the leader will end up isolating Peru, and abating projects like the
proposed inter-Oceanic highway that would cross the Peruvian regions
of Cuzco, Puno and Arequipa. Humala has set goals that he wants for
Peru, to "beat globalization," to have a strong economy and a strong
merchant navy. However, it is still not clear how he will make this
become a reality.

The armed forces and police (numbering around 180,000 in total), will
vote for the first time in the April elections. It seems that most of
them are likely to vote for Ollanta, albeit somewhat reluctantly,
since he is a fellow military officer. Garcia Perez would most likely
get some votes, not because he is particularly well liked by the
military, but because there are many former generals among APRA's
ranks running for congressional seats and the military's loyalty to
them may transfer to the man who heads the APRA ticket. Lourdes
Flores, due to her controversial role in the negotiations to end the
border dispute with Ecuador in the late 1990s, is likely to receive
relatively little support from them.

Finally there is the ever present threat of the resurgence of the
terrorist movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). An organization
that was believed to have been destroyed in the early 1990s when most
of its leaders were captured or killed, has since made an ominous
comeback in recent months, ambushing soldiers and policemen in the
Peruvian rainforest, and could become a big problem for the
government. In what can be regarded as a telephone call that Shining
Path still exists, the daily El Comercio reported on April 4 that the
inhabitants of the Andean city of Huanuco woke up to find red pieces
of cloth with the hammer and the sickle, as well as pamphlets calling
for a boycott of the April 9 elections. Humala has been a staunch
supporter of modernizing the Peruvian armed forces. As a former
military officer who was involved in operations against Shining Path
during the early 1990s, he is fully aware of what a resurgence of this
movement would mean. Should he win the elections, Shining Path would
have in front of them a Peruvian military and police that once again
is fully backed by the government to do "whatever is necessary" to
eliminate them, human rights violations to be damned.

Foreign policy
Also in play are the sort of foreign policy choices Peru will have to
be making in the future. The three candidates have distinctively
different goals in this area, given the ongoing Washington – Caracas
feud that has slowly divided the hemisphere.

Lourdes Flores is known for her support of the free trade agreement
with the U.S., which has made her the obvious choice to be
Washington's favorite. Other than this, she has been silent regarding
her foreign policy plans. Alan Garcia Perez has appeared as the most
moderate of the three contenders, he is a cautious supporter of a free
trade agreement with Washington. During his rule in the 1980s he
self-declared himself Campeón de la Paz (champion of peace). Should he
maintain such a stand today, a Garcia presidency would likely seek to
strengthen Peruvian relations with Chile, which have hit rock bottom
in recent years.

Ollanta Humala, considered the most radical of the three candidates,
has become known precisely because of what direction his government's
foreign policy could take. He recently met with Venezuela's Hugo
Chavez and recently-elected Bolivian president Evo Morales in Caracas.
It is unclear if Humala is a die-hard "pink tide" supporter, (there
are no guarantees he inherited his father's deep left ideology) or if
he will turn out to be another Lucio Gutierrez, the Ecuadorian
president who ended up becoming Washington's servitor and supporting
the U.S. military presence in Manta, after promising his indigenous
allies that he would not do so. What has put Ollanta in the news is
his promise to revise contracts that previous governments have signed,
like, for example, Chile's ownership of most of the country's ports,
despite the historic tension between the two countries. He also has
voiced his support for a stronger armed forces, which has probably
made Santiago uncomfortable. In an interesting twist of events,
Salomón Lerner Ghitis, a man who is regarded as someone "close" to
Ollanta, met in Santiago in late March with Christian Barros, Chile's
ambassador to Peru; Osvaldo Piccio, former spokesman for former
Chilean President Ricardo Lagos; and Esteban Silva, a Chilean who once
served as advisor to Toledo. Humala has publicly declared that he was
not aware of the meeting, but Peruvian newspapers like Correo and Peru
21 as well as Chile's La Tercera, mention that the meeting was likely
about Peruvian-Chilean relations in an eventual Humala presidency.

Vote, and hope for the best
On April 1, Javier Diez Canseco, presidential candidate of the Partido
Socialista (PS – Socialist Party), told Peru's daily La Republica that
voting for either of the three major contenders would bring the
country "a third and grave frustration." His words resonate: after the
Alberto Fujimori dictatorship (1990-2000) and the current Toledo
presidency, most Peruvians feel, that in spite of their promises, none
of the current candidates have the capacity necessary to bring the
country into the 21st century. Humala may have the backing of a
significant part of the country and a high international profile, but
it remains a matter of conjecture if he will be able to deliver his
promises, or if he will fail to deliver on them as has been the case
of so many of his predecessors.

This analysis was prepared by the COHA Staff
April 7, 2006

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  Colin Brace

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