Peru Election 2006

The archived version

The Campaign Has Only Just Begun

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Maxwell A. Cameron
January 8, 2006

Researchers in the field of comparative politics like to “soak and poke” in the areas they study as much as possible. Sometimes what we learn from primary research could be discovered by other means, especially in an era of instant communication over the Internet. That said, there is no question that being in a place, even for a short period, puts things into a new perspective. One acquires a sense of a place, an olfato politico, only by living in it. What follows are a few initial impressions.

A couple of things are immediately apparent from conversations we have had with acquaintances. In the first place, it is clear that the campaign has only begun. As the deadline to register candidates approaches, much of the news has focused on a peculiar ritual: the visit by candidates and their teams to the JNE where they register their candidacy. So far, over 20 candidates have registered, including Fujimori (we should know very soon whether his candidacy is accepted). This ritual is a reminder that the campaign has not yet begun, and this provides the voters with one way of avoiding the inevitable choice: they don’t have to decide for whom to vote until all the candidates—including the improbable and the scarcely presentable—have registered. In that sense, it is probably wise not to assume that most people have made up their minds. They have not, and there is a long campaign ahead.
More broadly, the overall mood of most people with whom we have spoken is uncertain. Nobody really knows what to expect; but one senses something deeper—that many people are genuinely uncertain about what they want. One dilemma is especially dramatic, and that is the choice between Ollanta Humala and Lourdes Flores Nano. In previous analyses, we have drawn a comparison with the campaign in 1990. The comparison seems increasingly apt. In 1990, presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa of FREDEMO (Frente Democratico, or Democratic Front) was the front-runner, but his performance in the first round of the race was disappointing in part because he ran a campaign that he thought of as a sort of pedagogical exercise in which he would convince voters of the need for hard choices and govern with a clear mandate. While admirable, in some respects, this campaign meant that Vargas Llosa not only refused to reach out to local powerbrokers and clans, he was emphatic in his hostility to them. Read his “Fish out of Water” for a remarkable description of his antipathy toward local bosses. As a result, Vargas Llosa lost support in critical areas of the country, especially the provinces.
Contrast this with Ollanta Humala’s party. The television and print media, both of which are treating Humala as the virtual front-runner, are full of reports of his links with Fujimori’s former supporters and allies, including Luis Caceres Velasquez, the former mayor of Arequipa and founder of FRENATRACA (Frente Nacional de Trabajadores y Campesinos, or National Front of Workers and Peasants), who took money from Vladimiro Montesinos. Cecilia Valenzuela, in a story that aired on her TV program “Ventana Indiscreta” reported that Carlos Torres Caro, one of Humala’s vice presidential candidates, worked for Roger Caceres, brother of Luis. Another objection to Torres Caro is that he worked with Fiscal de la Nacion Blanca Nelida Colan, a pawn of Montesinos during the Fujimori era.
Another story in La Razon (“Tambien hay lios en las filas de Humala,” La Razon, January 8, 2006, p. 5) reported that there have been disputes within the Partido Nacionalista Uniendo al Peru occasioned by members of the party in Junin who are not at all happy about the fact that their choice of candidates has been overturned by the party leadership which has instead imposed the sister of Luz Salgado, Maria Salgado, as well as the former mayor, Dimas Aliaga. What this all suggests is that the party leadership is doing everything it can to cut deals with local notables and win the endorsement and participation of people who it believes can help bring it to power. Humala’s group may not be, as he insists, driven by familial clans, but it is not a fish out of water. It is swimming with all the local powerbrokers that it thinks can help its cause.
Lourdes Flores is surely one of the most likable person in the election campaign, yet she shares two weaknesses with Vargas Llosa. First, she emphasizes the need for clear, stable, and transparent rules. This capitalizes on her reputation for integrity. Yet it can appear to be empty posturing, or even hypocritical, when the candidate has already cut deals that look like concessions to specific vested interests. Alan Garcia has been quick to pounce on Flores Nano’s choice of Arturo Woodman as vice presidential candidate, suggesting that Flores is beholden to bankers (read: “the Romero group,” though Garcia did not use that name). In response, Flores Nano, with all amiability, forgot her earlier vow to avoid mudslinging and accused the APRA leader of living high off the hog for 10 years in Paris without visible means of support. Woodman weighed in as well, saying Garcia should not criticize how other campaigns are financed. He then wondered aloud whether Garcia received any financing from Colombian friends. It takes little imagination to get the point. The dates for registering candidates has not yet closed, and this campaign is already dirtier than guano.
Humala’s willingness to cut deals to bring provincial powerbrokers on board has resulted in sharp criticisms from his own family in recent days. They have accused him of bedding down with unsavoury partners. This, and the fact that all the candidates are now moving sharply to the left in an effort to compete for votes with Humala, may go a long way to explaining Humala’s decision to travel to Venezuela to be seen with Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. This has caused a storm of protests from the Peruvian government, which is treating the invitation like a major breach of protocol, and the indignant protestations of some candidates, including Flores Nano. Nobody I have talked to seems to think such protests are in order. In any event, they do nothing to change the fact that Humala has successfully cast himself as the Peruvian equivalent to these controversial but undisputedly popular leaders. While conservative candidates stress the dangers of returning to policies of the past, the distinct impression left my recent events in the Andes is that neoliberal policies are of the past. Indeed, while the US has pushed hard for the negotiation of trade agreements under the rubric of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, agreements that are very demanding in their terms, Venezuela’s Chavez has been promising oil to Cuba, buying Argentine debt, agreeing to purchase agricultural goods from Bolivia, and helping Lula with an increasingly deteriorated domestic image problem. It is not hard to see how some voters might decide that Humala could secure goodies from Chavez.
Humala has also promised a referendum on the TLC, and has warned congress not to approve the deal before the elections. Torres Tagle, Peru’s foreign ministry, has responded to the criticism that the negotiation process has been less than transparent by releasing the text of the deal—except the chapter on agriculture!

Written by Michael Ha

January 8th, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Analysis & Opinion

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