Humala is best for democracy in Peru

Financial Times
May 31, 2011 7:20 pm by beyondbrics

By Max Cameron and Michael Marx McCarthy

This Sunday, when Peruvians go to the polls to elect a new single-term president, they will be casting their ballots in an echo chamber of analogies.

In politics, analogies can make game changing differences. Saddam Hussein was an Adolf Hitler. Nelson Mandela fathered a new South Africa. Obama represents the Joshua generation.

Sometimes these analogies hit the mark. They can reveal a profound truth by finding a hidden connection. Other times, they are more like card tricks, revealing less than they hide.

The front-runner in the first round of the election, Ollanta Humala, has been compared to Hugo Chávez. According to his critics, he would trample on Peru’s democratic institutions and create a self-perpetuating quasi-dictatorship.

The other candidate, Keiko Fujimori, has been called a Trojan horse who would take Peru back to the decade of the 1990s when her father ruled through a combination of bribery, blackmail, and abuse of power.

These analogies are both true and false.

Humala would not govern like Chávez because conditions in Peru are totally unlike those in Venezuela, which occasioned a system breakdown and paved the way for Chávez’s rise to power in 1998. Peru’s economy has been booming like thunder for a decade and millions have been lifted out of poverty.

No fundamental reversal of the policies that produced this socio-economic change is at issue. Rather, an urgently needed debate over wealth distribution has been stimulated by Humala’s candidacy.

Peru’s economic boom has resulted in a substantial reduction of poverty.

Today about a third of the country is poor, down from half the country a decade ago. But growth has been concentrated in Lima and the coast. In the south and central highlands and in the Amazonian jungle, poverty remains high and a ‘wild west’ approach to natural resource extraction has intensified conflict.

Indigenous Aymara in the highland city of Puno have captured headlines in the midst of the election campaign with protests against plans by Bear Creek, a Canadian miner, to open a silver mine that protestors say would pollute Lake Titicaca. A combination of negative environmental side-effects and a struggle over economic rents generated from these activities could fuel another cycle of violence and repression.

These pressures raise questions about Peru’s political institutions, which are not as robust as those of Chile and Uruguay, for example, often praised as poster children for democracy in the region. But the sky is not falling. A major collapse that would create an environment fertile for a ‘salve patria’ mission is unlikely.

To make Chávez-like changes, Humala would need a huge coalition hungry for major political transformation. This he does not have.

Moreover, one of Chávez’s most vocal critics in the region, Mario Vargas Llosa, is now supporting Humala.

He and other liberal intellectuals, including his son Alvaro, could convince undecided moderate voters that a Keiko presidency would not be compatible with democracy.

Their support for Humala stems from two factors: Humala’s move to the center and pledge to respect Peru’s democratic rules; and the direct connection that exists between Keiko and her father Alberto Fujimori, the former president who wielded power ruthlessly and arbitrarily in the 1990s.

Keiko was part of her father’s government, if only as “first lady” (a stand-in role that she assumed after her mother was brutally mistreated by her father). She has not repudiated her father’s policies, and we suspect she would release him from prison where he is serving a 25 year sentence for corruption and crimes against humanity. In fact, her campaign appears to have been run, in part, out of the penitentiary where father Fujimori is incarcerated.

Critics say the very same dirty tricks he used to perpetuate himself in power have been used in her campaign.

When a journalist in one of two pro-Humala newspapers revealed that the Peruvian military intelligence service was engaged in dirty tricks to support her campaign, the editor received a funereal bouquet. Another newspaper that is more sympathetic to Humala was purchased on masse to prevent circulation in certain districts of Lima. Much of the media is heavily biased against Humala, abandoning any pretense to neutrality in news reporting.

If she pardoned her father and attacked the judges who put him behind bars there is a danger that the entire mafia that ran the judiciary and armed forces, and which was never entirely purged by previous governments, would be reactivated.

Then there is the key matter of powerful interests and checks and balances, the main reason she represents by far the greater danger to Peru’s democracy.

Keiko has few incentives to govern democratically, while Humala faces constraints that may force him to govern democratically.

She would govern with the collaboration of powerful de facto interests – big business, the media, the armed forces, the most socially conservative forces within the Catholic and evangelical churches, and much of the political establishment – which would be all too pleased to watch as she imposed a “mano dura” (or iron fist) on crime and dissent, applied band-aide solutions for poverty, and asked for kickbacks in exchange for continuing “open for business” economic policies.

Humala, on the other hand, would be hemmed in on every corner. A hostile business community, rabidly critical media, nervous armed force, and all the corrupt office holders in congress, the courts and the judiciary would do everything possible to keep him off balance. The only way for him to govern would be to take the higher ground and rule democratically, since the legitimacy of his right to rule would not be backed by Peru’s powerful private actors.

All this tells us that Peru has a long way to go before it becomes a stable democracy with good governance and laws. For these ‘democratic consolidation’ strides to be taken, powerful actors will have to lose power.

Convincing elites that such a recalibration is a positive sum game will be difficult. But if Peru’s elites were to look east, across the Andes to Brazil, they would find inspiration from an elite that learned a worker’s political party headed by a worker could be good for business, good for democracy, and good for the welfare of society.

As the region’s weathering of the Great Recession shows, the Latin American left can be quite good for domestic and international business. Indeed, these elections, beyond determining the future trajectory of Peru, hold major implications for the ‘growth with equity’ development model.

An Humala presidency would broaden the reach of that social democratic model. A Keiko presidency would damage democracy and pay lip service to equity while growing the fortunes of the rich even more.

The bigger danger is not that Humala would reveal himself to be a wolf in sheep’s skin. It is, we fear, that he would turn out be like Obama: that he would come to power and find himself able to do very little to address his country’s deeper structural problems.

Max Cameron, a Peru specialist, is Professor of Political Science in the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. Michael Marx McCarthy is a doctoral candidate in political science at Johns Hopkins University.

Election Panel at UBC

A lively panel was held at UBC on the federal elections. It was sponsored by the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions. See the live blog for a blow-by-blow account. Here is a report from The Province:

The Province, 4 May 2011, p. A6.

Experts clash on Liberals’ future: Comeback kid or ‘toast’

By Ian Austin

Even the experts can’t agree on what Canada’s confounding election results mean.

At a panel discussion of University of B.C. political experts Tuesday, political scientists disagreed fundamentally on whether the Liberals’ dismal thirdplace showing means the death of the party or a potential for rebirth.

“I can quite easily see the Liberals winning the next election,” Prof. Fred Cutler told a surprised roomful of fascinated students.

“I can see the Liberal Party coming back with a bilingual leader who has credibility in Quebec and gaining 200 seats.

“The Liberal Party still got 20 per cent of the vote.”

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff resigned after the party was pummeled Monday night.

Regardless of who the Liberals choose as a new leader, Prof. Richard Johnston predicted the Liberal Party is finished.

“I think they are toast,” said Johnston. “I think the centre is extremely difficult to defend.”

The panel was somewhat astonished by the NDP’s strong showing in Quebec -but cautioned that the province tends to change on a dime from party to party.

“Quebec continues to be the great unknown,” said Prof. Ken Carty, who noted the party is just the latest to sweep Quebec, following the Bloc Quebecois, the Conservatives and the Liberals.

Cutler said Harper can’t stray too far to the right if he wants to be reelected, citing many close races in the Toronto area where MPs will be defeated if Harper moves too quickly and too far to the right.

The panel was split on how effective Green Leader Elizabeth May can be as her party’s only MP.

– Voter turnout Monday was 61.4 per cent, up from 58.8 per cent in 2008, when the Tories earned a minority win. In B.C., the 2011 turnout was 61.1 per cent, up from 60.1 per cent.

Photo credit: Ken Cameron

Polarization or Realignment: What is the Moral of this Story?

Maxwell A. Cameron

Politicians are storytellers. At best, their stories become part of the narrative of the nation. At the least, they offer us reasons to support them—reasons to believe that their cause is ours.

Stephen Harper offered a compelling narrative to his supporters. The election was not about him, he insisted. It was an unnecessary election, brought on by squabbling politicians, and it threatened to derail the economic recovery that his government had achieved.

For those who did not support Harper, his attacks on the other leaders for their excessive ambition seemed pretty rich. But that did not matter because Harper framed the election debate so that it was not about him but about the other leaders and their desire to replace the government with a coalition that would be nobody’s first choice.

The strategy worked against Michael Ignatieff, the target of most of the Tory attack ads. Ignatieff was particularly vulnerable because he had spent his life outside Canadian politics, and could be dismissed as “just visiting.” Worse, he appeared ambitious without explaining the source of his lust for power.

Ignatieff failed to provide a competing narrative that would frame the election in a way that people could identify with. Having supported the war in Iraq he could hardly be an avatar of Pearsonian internationalism. As someone who called himself an American, he couldn’t captivate Canadian nationalists.

Layton benefited from Ignatieff’s weakness. His feisty debate performance reframed the election as a three-way fight. His expressed desire to be the Prime Minister was crucial to making the case that he was a real contender. Ignatieff’s ambition became an embarrassment, but for Layton it was critical to his credibility.

Layton was able to frame the debate, not in ideological terms, but as a choice between change and more of the same. With a leaf taken from the Obama campaign (“We can do this” rather than “Yes we can”), he argued that Ottawa was broken. His success in Quebec—a long sought prize for the NDP, it must be stressed—eliminated the single biggest barrier to the growth of the NDP elsewhere. This produced a massive realignment.

As the official opposition, the NDP will be in a good position to develop the narrative of change that has worked so far. It would have been very difficult to be leader of the opposition in a hung parliament. But for New Democrats, victory is bitter sweet.

A Tory majority means the better part of half a decade more of inaction on the climate crisis, to name but one example of the kinds of issues that will rile the NDP (and part of the Liberal) base. If Liberals and New Democrats think the Conservatives governed undemocratically in a minority government, they can anticipate a much more radical approach from a Conservative majority.

The big question we are left with is whether Canadian politics will now polarize along left-right lines or will the NDP find a way of working with the Liberals (and, at last, one Green MP) to reclaim the centre? Already there are voices calling for a new liberal democratic party to represent the 60 percent of the electorate that did not want this election result. For this to work, however, the Liberal Party must examine itself and come up with a better message about why it matters and a better messenger to deliver it.

Spam prevention powered by Akismet