Peru’s General Elections Are a Free for All

Despite a mixed bag of candidates, Peru can expect continuity in broad economic policies regardless of who comes to power.

Keiko Fujimori, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Verónika Mendoza. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Keiko Fujimori, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Verónika Mendoza. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The run-up to the Peruvian general elections, scheduled for April 10, has as usual proved to be thoroughly entertaining. We have witnessed a mixed bag of candidates: the familiar former ex-presidents (Alan Garcia and Alejandro Toledo), the runner-up from the 2011 elections (Keiko Fujimori), the surprise outsiders (Julio Guzmán and César Acuña), and the torchbearers of the right (Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, or PPK), the left (Verónika Mendoza) and centre (Alfredo Barnechea).

It has been a free-for-all. The two strong ‘outsider’ candidates, Acuña and Guzmán, have been disqualified; attempts have even been made to disqualify the frontrunners, Keiko and PPK; almost all serious contenders face allegations of corruption and clientelism; and just before election day, more than 50,000 Peruvians took to the streets to protest against Keiko, daughter of 77-year-old Alberto Fujimori, a former Peruvian president with a murky and controversial legacy.

Amidst the excitement and tension, there is one major takeaway from these elections. The National Jury of Elections’ selective application of the law to disqualify Acuña and Guzmán highlights the continuing nexus between public institutions and political parties in Peru. It is not surprising that political outsiders have been disqualified while seasoned politicians are still in the running, despite similar allegations being levied against them.

The first round of elections in Peru is like a movie trailer. You only get a preview of the lead actors and the plot. The second round is where it all happens. Peruvians have voted in a second round four times (discounting the elections in 2000, widely acknowledged fraudulent). On two occasions, in 1990 and 2006, the leader in the first round lost the second round. In 2001 and 2011, the leader of the first round went on to win the presidency.

This time, Keiko will breeze through the first round, despite the tarnished image of her father, the first head of state in the world extradited back to his country and convicted for human rights crimes. Keiko will meet either Mendoza or PPK in the second round. Even though thousands of Peruvians vow never again to vote for a Fujimori, Keiko’s vote base is an over-arching, appealing mix of rural and urban Peruvians. No other candidate enjoys as much support as Keiko in the rural areas. This large interior may be a deciding factor. However, the second round is likely to become, just as in 2011, yet another instance of ‘Fujimorismo’ vs the rest. Keiko’s performance will thus be decided more by the anti-vote against her than by the support for either Mendoza or PPK.

Mendoza, by far the youngest of the serious contenders at 35 years of age, has garnered much momentum over the past couple of months. She is an openly leftist, liberal candidate. She supports gay marriage, would work to safeguard the rights of the roughly five million strong indigenous population, and improve public health and education systems; she is against the proliferation of large-scale mining projects, like the proposed Conga and Tia Maria mines, due to their potential negative environmental and social impacts. In the end, these candid positions on important economic and social policies will make or break her candidature.

PPK is on the other side of the aisle. He is more than twice Mendoza’s age ‒ a factor that is not lost on Peruvian voters, who often cite his age as the primary reason not to vote for him ‒ and has tons of experience as a politician, an economist, an administrator and as a scholar. Few in the country doubt that he would be able to run the country successfully, but his shortcoming is seen to be the lack of a ‘mano dura’ or a ‘firm hand’ to combat issues related to crime, drug-trafficking and security.

Whether Keiko, PPK or Mendoza will be elected president in the run-off on June 5 is anybody’s guess. However, if the past 15 years are anything to go by, we can expect continuity in broad economic policies regardless of who comes to power. Even the left-wing incumbent President Ollanta Humala has hardly veered from liberal, free-market policies that have characterised Peru’s economy for many years. Mendoza too, like Humala, would no doubt find it difficult to stand her ground and oppose such policies that have underpinned the growth of extractive sectors in Peru. Keiko and PPK have openly stated that they will continue in a similar trajectory and steer the economy to higher rates of growth. The macroeconomic fundamentals of Peru are thus likely to remain stable and the country will continue to grow at a modest if not relatively higher rate than its neighbours in Latin America. However, social policies, including those related to ‘Consulta Previa’ (Law of the Right to Prior Consultation for Indigenous and Native Peoples) and programs like the conditional cash transfers, are another matter altogether. After the run-off in June, the new president will face another challenge ‒ to stave off the audacious anti-incumbency that has plagued Peruvian presidents since 2001.

Hari Seshasayee is a Latin America analyst. He tweets at @haricito.