Peru Election 2006

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Coup veteran closes in on Peru’s left flank

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According to Marina Jimenez of The Globe and Mail, “Mr. Humala, 43, is riding a wave of regional discontent with the neo-liberal policies of privatization and free trade. While the Andean country of 27 million has experienced solid economic growth for five consecutive years — 7 per cent last year — the benefits have not filtered down to the poor majority living in the shantytowns and the highlands.”

Coup veteran closes in on Peru’s left flank
Populist Humala is poised to follow wave of socialist electoral wins in Latin America
The Globe and Mail
Print Edition 30/03/06 Page A14

With reports from Reuters and Associated Press
His only political experience is a failed coup. He comes from a family that espouses an eccentric philosophy of remaking the government around descendants of the Incan Empire.
And yet Ollanta Humala, a radical populist, is rising in popularity, and is now the favoured candidate to become Peru’s next president in the election on April 9.
If the retired army lieutenant-colonel wins, he would become at least the eighth Latin American leader to take office since 2000 from the left, including the leaders of Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador and Venezuela, with strong leftist contenders in Mexico’s and Nicaragua’s presidential races later this year.
Mr. Humala, 43, is riding a wave of regional discontent with the neo-liberal policies of privatization and free trade. While the Andean country of 27 million has experienced solid economic growth for five consecutive years — 7 per cent last year — the benefits have not filtered down to the poor majority living in the shantytowns and the highlands.
“Humala is saying ‘we need a new model.’ He is using the rhetoric of [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez and [Bolivian President] Evo Morales, though he has toned it down a bit,” Max Cameron, a political scientist from the University of British Columbia, said in a phone interview from Peru. “Peruvian politics is a wonderful soap opera with lots of scandal and drama, and volume is always at maximum. It’s rough and dirty.”
Mr. Humala, whose background is mestizo, or mixed race, and who has distanced himself from his family’s racist creed, is capitalizing on the country’s disenchantment with the status quo. His closest rival is Lourdes Flores, a fiscally conservative, pro-business candidate who cannot shake her image as a member of the rich, Lima-based elite.
The latest opinion survey by pollster Apoyo shows Mr. Humala, of the Union for Peru (UPP), with 33 per cent of voter support, and Ms. Flores, 46, with the National Unity party (UN), with 27 per cent. Unless one candidate wins 50 per cent plus one vote, the election will go to a second round in May. Ms. Flores is favoured to win the second round, but with a third of voters still undecided and momentum building for Mr. Humala, there is a strong chance he could be the winner.
There are 20 presidential contenders and 3,000 congressional candidates for 120 seats in a country with a colourful history of political drama and deep social inequities: illiteracy remains at 35 per cent in remote Andean towns, and one in every two Peruvians has no access to proper medical care.
Alberto Fujimori, a political unknown, was elected president in 1990, defeating Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru’s most celebrated writer, as the country struggled with hyperinflation and the havoc wreaked by the Shining Path, a Maoist insurgency.
When Mr. Fujimori fled the country 10 years later, he was discredited as an authoritarian ruler undone by a corruption scandal. He is currently in prison in Chile awaiting extradition, after he tried to return to Peru to run for re-election. Mr. Humala led a coup against Mr. Fujimori in 2000, and was briefly imprisoned.
No wonder a recent United Nations report found major disillusionment in Peru with the political system. Only 5 per cent of those surveyed felt democracy was working well, 73.2 favoured authoritarianism and 90.4 think politicians are to blame for the demise of democracy.
“There is a general sense that the legislature here is useless,” Prof. Cameron said. “One congressman is a bigamist. Another used his position to put family members in prominent positions. And congress just voted for a pay raise and now make 18 times the average per capita income.”
Mr. Humala’s candidacy falls less into the market-friendly leftist camps of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and more closely resembles that of Mr. Chavez and Mr. Morales.
Venezuela’s charismatic strongman is given to florid, four-hour speeches filled with anti-U.S. rhetoric, while Mr. Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, is leading a campaign to legalize coca plants.
Mr. Humala said he would suspend eradication of coca, the prime ingredient for cocaine, which Washington has spent millions of dollars trying to get rid of in the Andes. He suggested baking 27 million loaves of bread from coca leaves every day for school breakfasts.
Mr. Humala has also called for a renegotiation of oil and gas contracts with foreign investors, and promised to call a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, something Mr. Chavez also did. (The Venezuelan leader also led a failed coup before becoming president.)
Mr. Humala wants to raise taxes and redistribute income to the poor. Critics, however, say that will scare off foreign investment and that a more prudent strategy would be to trim the bloated bureaucracy and diversify the economy. About 90 per cent of Peru’s budget goes to public-sector salaries and debt servicing.
Even as the region becomes a counterpoint to unpopular U.S.-backed policies, it is unclear how Mr. Humala would adapt if he actually held elected office. Some, though, are clearly worried.
In a recent warning, Mr. Vargas Llosa admonished Peruvians not to vote for Mr. Humala: “How is it possible that, after 10 shameful years of the dictatorship of Fujimori and [his now-imprisoned former spy chief Vladimiro] Montesinos, in which [the country] was looted and plundered in the most degrading manner, a third of the population wants to return to authoritarianism, to the systematic violation of human rights and a subjugated press?”
Rich and poor
Peru’s rich and varied heritage includes the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco and the lost city of Machu Picchu. Despite vast stores of copper, silver, lead, zinc, oil and gold, Peru’s progress has been held back by corruption and the failure of successive governments to deal with social and economic inequality.
A small, white elite of Spanish descent controls most of the wealth and political power, while indigenous peoples are largely excluded from both and make up many of the millions of Peruvians who live in poverty.
z Population:28 million
z Average annual income: $2,801
z Population below poverty line: 54%
z Literacy rate: 87.7%
z Life expectancy: 69 years
z Ethnicity: American Indian 45%; mestizo (mixed American Indian and white) 37%; white 15%; black, Japanese, Chinese and other 3%
z Religions: Christian 83% (81% Roman Catholic); other or unspecified 17%
z Languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara
z Area: 1.28 million square kilometres (about equivalent to Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined)

Written by Michael Ha

March 30th, 2006 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Political Parties

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