Press Release: Field Still Open for García’s Successor

Questions on the presidential election in Peru grow as April 10th approaches
Country is bound to have a run-off balloting

Momentum builds in Peru as the presidential polls have liquidated the pool of candidates down to five front-runners. A new polling result released on March 27, by Ipsos Apoyo and Datum, has propelled Pedro Pablo Kucyzynski and Ollanta Humala from the rear ranks to the forefront amongst the candidates. Each candidate has an approval rating of about 20 percent, making the April 10 general elections look as unpredictable as those held in 1962, when the prevailing candidate accumulated only 0.85 percent more than the second place candidate (even though a military coup soon followed).

It is unlikely that the absolute majority vote needed to determine the victor in the general elections will materialize, as Peruvian voters are split among the five leading candidates. This will result in a run-off election, which will determine the absolute majority vote. Former President Alejandro Toledo, originally the widely favored candidate, now resembles a sinking ship after plummeting in the polls. Keiko Fujimori and Óscar Luis Castañeda Lossio have also fallen back, while two new candidates, Kucyzynski and Humala, are gaining ground. The outcome remains elusive; one quarter of voters confess that they remain undecided or are likely to change their minds before April 10. This makes the second presidential debate on April 3 of the utmost importance for the contending frontrunners.

Potential Candidates

The more scrutiny that Peruvians apply to Toledo, the less enthralled with him they become. Alejandro Toledo, head of the Perú Posible (PPP), is running his campaign on the promise that, “[w]hat I did well I will do better. What I did badly will be corrected.”1 Many economists credit former President Toledo with building the base of Peru’s rapidly growing economy, giving specific emphasis to his 2001-2006 policies, which included development of the free market and stressing the need for foreign investment. Toledo believes he focused too much on state policies and not enough on “day to day” issues during his former presidency. Now he promises Peruvians that his next tenure will address social change, expanding the Juntos program which was created during his last term. Toledo argues that growth is not sufficient if social development does not follow, and he criticizes the current administration for helping the rich get richer.2

Peru’s economic development was at the heart of Toledo’s presidency, yet his record in this respect was not necessarily brilliant and is not a critical part of his campaign. This is Toledo’s fourth presidential campaign. 2011 is the first time that he has started as the front-running candidate, and (contrary to the way he ran his campaign in 2000) has portrayed himself as a center-leftist to the Peruvian voters. Speaking at a March 29 conference concerning the upcoming elections, George Washington University Professor Carlos Indacochea pressed the notion that ex-president Toledo was prone to mistakes. Indacochea felt that Toledo pushed himself into the spotlight early in the campaign, making the candidate an easy target for his opponents. Personal attacks have been aimed at all the candidates, but Toledo’s presidential term generates ammunition for political slander. Peruvian polls also indicate that citizens are disenchanted by Toledo’s campaigning methods; voters worry that his agenda is too focused on social topics. Although others have attacked their closest opponents during the campaign, Toledo is unable to do so. His closest rival is Pedro Pablo Kucyzynski (referred to as ‘PPK’), who was a key figure during Toledo’s first term as president. Therefore, there is not much mud-slinging that can be done. Indacochea has argued that Toledo’s best chance is prove himself as the ideal candidate for the run-off elections.3 Toledo trailed in the polls in 2001; if Peruvian electoral history repeats itself, Lima may find Toledo back at the helm.

Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza 2011 party appears to be coasting on the momentum that her name has given her. She expressed, “[m]y father creates passion. You either love him or hate him.”4 The wave of support for Keiko Fujimori is mainly from the rural interior of Peru, where high concentrations of indigenous communities reside. They tenaciously believe that Keiko’s father–former President Alberto Fujimori helped save them from the terrorist rebels, the Shining Path, during his presidency in the 1990s. Despite Alberto Fujimori being the only Latin American head of state convicted for human rights abuses in his own country, many argue, including Professor Indacochea, that Alberto Fujimori receives unwarranted credit for stopping the Shining Path terrorists. Keiko states that she will follow Peruvian legal procedures to secure her father’s release from prison, but many believe a future pardon is paper clipped onto her campaign. Ollanda Humala is currently the only candidate who expresses strong feelings against potential amnesty for the imprisoned Alberto Fujimori. Keiko may practice good politics if a similar Shining Path siege occurs, but otherwise, her congressional record does not show much promise as a strong future leader for Peru. Academics speaking on the elections believe that Keiko will not show much growth in the polls from now until April 10.5

Ollanta Humala, leader of Gana Perú, is the only military candidate in the elections. Most of his support lies in the rural heartland of Peru, and despite criticism for his previous tangential relationship with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, Humala has refrained from discussing Chávez, as his name is somewhat toxic amongst most Peruvians. Today, Humala is the only leftist candidate, but he seems to be heeding some advice from former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s campaign advisors; he has gradually moved his policies further toward the center in an effort to gain a wider voting base. Humala may even announce an orthodox minister of the economy on Sunday in order to quell critics of his economic policy, just as Lula did during his presidential campaign. Considering that Humala won the largest majority during the general presidential elections in 2006, but lost the majority in the run-off election to Alan García, Humala is likely to be a formidable candidate if he manages to make it to the second round.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, representing Alianza por el Gran Cambio, has a sound reputation for conventional economics. Much of this can be attributed to his performances as the previous Minister of the Economy as well as prime minister during Toledo’s presidency. Kuczynski has recently surged in the polls but, when compared to Humala’s momentum, it does not seem that he will be able to sway the public opinion in his favor. His real challenge is vaulting over Toledo in order to beat Humala or Fujimori in the probable run-off elections. Kucyznski’s policies endorse maintaining the traditional economic structure of Peru, gaining him many followers. All of the other candidates (besides Humala) use a similar strategy, so Kucyznski must distinguish himself from his opponents.

Luis Castañeda, the former Mayor of Lima and now representing Solidaridad Nacional, has lost a good deal of support as election day approaches. His primary backing has been concentrated in Lima. However, current limena mayor Susana Villarán has been critically examining Castañeda’s mayoral term. This may be a reason that his strong supporters in Lima have shifted their votes elsewhere after Villarán released results from an audit that highlighted gross, and possibly wasteful, spending throughout his administration. Academics surmise that Castañeda does not stand a chance against the other four larger contenders.6

According to an Ipsos-Apoyo poll, Castañeda is popularly favored against the other four candidates in the anticipated run-off. But he needs to first survive the general elections. Comparatively, Ollanta Humala has scant support in the run-off. The poll depicts him losing against each of the candidates if he makes it to the second round. From this particular poll, the other contenders in the run-off appear to be Alejandro Toledo, Keiko Fujimori, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, although about twenty percent of these voters were undecided in the poll.7

Concerns of the Citizens

As election day approaches and citizens reflect more on the options, the candidates will find themselves under a great deal of enhanced scrutiny. With little difference in proposals from each candidate besides variations offered by the leftist-leaning Ollanta Humala, Peruvians are focusing on the candidates’ character rather than their articulated policies. Peruvians remain concerned about rising crime, security, and maintaining economic growth, says Cynthia McClintock, Director of the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program at George Washington University. But real social issues remain off the agenda due to contention among the various candidates. They all profess that they will continue Alan García’s lucrative investment-lead economic policies as well as the protection and security of the Peruvian people. However, they remain silent on issues that are likely to surface during the upcoming term, such as the fact that one-third of Peruvians are still impoverished, the Andean ice glaciers are rapidly melting, and robust drug trafficking is rising in regions like Northern Peru and the VRAE Valley. The televised presidential debate this Sunday on April 3 will reveal who will rise out of the ranks as the preferred leader of Peruvian democracy, and who will differentiate him or herself from the other candidates.

References for this article can be found here.