Peru Election 2006

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Peru Seven Days Before the Election

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Maxwell A. Cameron
April 2, 2006

At this moment, one week from today, the polls will be closed and scrutineers will be counting the votes. The election is one week away, and in this final week many things could happen. The last week is strategically important. Each campaign will want to end with a sense of momentum and anticipated triumph. The closing rallies will be big, noisy, colorful events, and a couple are scheduled to occur simultaneously within the radius of a few city blocks in downtown Lima.
The insults and the recriminations between the various candidates and their supporters will probably intensify. An especially intense race is emerging between Lourdes Flores of National Unity (UN) and Alan Garcia of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) for the second-place spot. Whereas all the polls coincide in suggesting that the first place candidate is Ollanta Humala of the Union for Peru (UPP), is it unclear whether the critically important runner-up candidate will be Lourdes Flores or Alan Garcia. The tendency in the polls over the past few weeks has been for Garcia to gain support slowly and for Flores to declining support equally slowly. It is possible that by the end of the week the two candidates could be tied, in which case either one might pass into the second round.

There seems to be little chance at this point that Humala will win in the first round. This alone is a fact of some importance. For all the hype around his candidacy—both the band-wagoning of some sectors and the dog-piling against him by others—Humala has not managed to surpass the place he held in the polls in January. The fact is that Humala continues to awaken serious misgivings among voters. These arise, in part, from his authoritarian personality. A tendency to speak as if he was commanding troops is hardly a surprise for someone who spent 24 years in the military and has never held public office or run for election before. Misgivings arise from Humala’s military service record and the possibility, which he has failed to effectively dispel with either credible arguments or evidence, that he committed serious human rights abuses while in command of a military base in the Alto Huallaga region in the early 1990s.
Misgivings about Humala arise from the chaos and the amateurism of his entourage. His erstwhile spokesperson, Daniel Abugattas, recently called the first lady an “hija de puta.” This probably did not hurt Humala that much; the first lady has few champions. But it showed a remarkably lack of acumen for the person who is supposed to manage the image of the leader and his party. Abugattas is not the only loose canon in the campaign.
While Humala was telling the foreign press that he would require media owners who owe back taxes to pay up, his vice-presidential candidate Carlos Torres Caro was having an expensive lunch in a fancy restaurant in Miraflores, Lima, with Genardo Delgado Parker, the owner of one of the most delinquent firms in Peru—Panamericana Television. Humala later said that if the lunch was anything other than amicable, Torres Caro would be subjected to disciplinary measures.
The relationship between Delgado Parker and Torres Caro is anything but merely amicable. It has been reported that Torres Caro offered his services to Delgado Parker when he was working in the Public Ministry at the time that Delgado Parker was facing the threat of legal actions arising from Vladivideos that exposed his close relationship with Vladimiro Montesinos. Humala has said the Vladivideos were as important as the Seven Essays by Jose Carlos Mariategui because they revealed the extent of corruption in Peru. In an interview on Channel 2 television today, Torres Caro offered himself as a guarantee that the government of Humala will be respectful of the rule of law. He is a lawyer who has taught human rights and written books on the law, he said.
There seems to be an emerging consensus that Ollanta Humala has managed to contrive a good package of ideas that are intrinsically appealing. It is not his ideas that worry people, however. Having observed Humala on a number of separate occasions, and in front of diverse audiences, it is clear that he has become increasingly sophisticated. He is tough on entrepreneurs who, he claims, are not paying their share of taxes, yet reassuring to investors who are willing to work with a nationalist government. He promises to renegotiate contracts for foreign firms who are not paying taxes or royalties, but he also insists that he will pursue orthodox macroeconomic policies that will not cause price instability. What is troubling to some audiences is not that any specific ideas are wrong, but that the ensemble is not coherent and the man and his movement behind the ensemble are chaotic.
People I have spoken with in the private sector are increasingly of the mind that Humala is a threat not so much because he is a blazing radical who will expropriate private entreprises, but because his program has been put together so hastily, and is so full of incongruous elements, that it would take months if not years to make a proper assessment of whether he is able to manage a credible economic strategy. He may, in the end, alter the economic model less than some of his supporters may hope. Yet the biggest threat to investment will come from the decision of many investors to wait and see what his government will bring before making further investments. This will certainly depress growth, even though the fundamentals of the Peruvian economy are sound and the prices of its exports are high (and probably will remain high for some time).
In short, it is not what Humala says that worries people, and this is true not only of the business community. The left is also nervous about Humala. For example, after Humala spoke with the foreign press the other day, Gustavo Espinoza offered an analysis of his ideas. Gustavo Espinoza is a long-standing member of Peru’s Communist Party, and he is a thoughtful and experienced analyst. He said that Humala’s words are progressive and nationalist, but in a country like Peru—with its long history of violence and corruption—verbal reassurances are not enough.
Moreover, Humala’s movement provides little reassurance for those who fear that violence and corruption will trail in his wake. According to Espinoza, there are three key elements in Humala’s movement. First, there is a fascistoide military element, composed of reservists, his shock troops, and officials linked to the intelligence service. Second, there is an entrepreneurial-financial group which is composed of individuals of dubious character. Third, there is a group of progressive technocrats, particularly around Gonzalo Garcia. They are seeking to give the movement a more progressive orientation. Beyond these three main pillars, there are other smaller circles, including his family, certain individuals who bring their own entourage or come alone.
Whereas Humala awakes anxiety, Flores is disliked by few. The problem with Lourdes Flores is that she has failed to make an emotional connection with the electorate. Here the problem lies less with her strategy or her personality than with the simple fact that Peru is a deeply divided country and she is seen as the candidate who best represents the interests of those on the top of the social pyramid. It is not that she is particularly privileged. She comes from a solid middle-class professional background, and she is down-to-earth and comfortable in dealing with individual voters. The problem her campaign faces is structural. Whereas the support for Humala increases monotonically as you move from the elite to the middle sectors to the masses, support for Flores declines in equal proportion. They are mirror images of one another. As such, Flores has been dealt the more difficult hand to play. After all, more Peruvians are poor than rich.
Source: APOYO, El Comercio, April 2, 2006, p. a9.
There are a number of things that Flores has done right to address this structural problem. She is not running as the leader of the Popular Christian Party, but has the head of an alliance in which the PPC is a member. That allows her to emphasize a brand name that is new. She started campaigning early and got out in front in the public opinion polls before the other candidates were off the mark. She has emphasized her gender, and has won wide support with women of every social extraction. Her campaign has been personality-oriented, rather than ideological, and her emphasis has been on social policy rather than on the free market. Flores has emphasized direct contact with voters, privileging the poorer neighborhoods and provinces.
As the campaign has worn on, however, it has become increasingly clear that there is a process of polarization underway between Lima and the rest of Peru. According to the most recent polls, Flores has a commanding lead in Lima (36 percent, to Humala’s 21 percent and Garcia’s 20 percent). She is also strong in the northern coast, where she is in contention with Garcia. However, she is behind Humala or Garcia by a wide margin everywhere else. Within the last few weeks it has been clear that Flores’ campaign is faltering. The slight decline in the overall percentage of the vote for Flores has hidden a more interesting reality. Her support has been falling in the provinces, and this has been disguised by her continuing strength in Lima. A possible runoff between Humala and Flores would be a runoff that pitted Lima against the rest of Peru; the urban capital versus the nation’s provinces.
With the recovery of support for Humala that occurred through March, Flores struggled to shift from a personality-centered campaign to one that more directly addressed the perception that she is a candidate of the rich elite in Lima. The right tends to expose its blinkers when it tries to appeal to working class and provincial Peruvians. This has been the Achilles’ heel of every major effort to win support for a right-wing candidate since 1990.
An anecdote conveys the problem vividly. The popular television program “Magaly TV” has recently interviewed a number of candidates and their partners. (In an interview with Ollanta Humala, Magaly asked Nadine Heredia, Humala’s wife, to sing. Magaly asked about how the couple met and about their family life. People with whom I spoke the next day concurred that the interview probably did a lot to soften the image of Ollanta). Magaly conducted an interview with Flores that was deplorable.
Flores does not have a partner. Her closest family member is probably her father, and she is reportedly devoted to him. Yet Flores did not bring her father to the show. In the 2001 election he made racist slur against Alejandro Toledo, and this is widely considered to have prevented Flores from making it into the second round (which pitted Alejandro Toledo against Alan Garcia). Instead of bringing her father to the show, Flores appeared with the children of her domestic employee. By all accounts, she has virtually adopted these two children and her relationship with them would appear to be a healthy and positive. Yet the appearance of using them to advance her campaign, to show her human side, was surely a mistake.
Part of the structural problem Flores faces is that she cannot credibly express frustration against the status quo. Her message is positive and hopeful in a country where resentment and hostility are powerful forces. Yet Flores cannot easily capture the frustration of the electorate because she does not have any reason to share it.
Consider her relationship with the government of Alejandro Toledo. One of the main themes of Flores’ campaign has been that there has not been enough “trickledown” of wealth from the positive performance of the economy. This might be considered a criticism of the current administration, but it is pretty tepid. Flores has been given good opportunities to attack Alejandro Toledo, but she has done seized them. A credible source has told me that Toledo did not provide Rafael Belaunde the support he needed to lead the governing Peru Posible party in the presidential race because he was advised by a group of entrepreneurs close to Flores to discourage Belaunde’s candidacy because it would draw votes from Flores. That was a big favor. Small wonder Flores does not criticize Toledo.
Similarly, Flores cannot criticize the business class for being corrupt and for prostrating itself before the intelligence service under the control of Vladimiro Montesinos in the 1990s—a criticism that Humala has made repeatedly—when her vice presidential candidate Arturo Woodman is a conspicuous member of the business community who reputedly introduced the richest business man in Peru, Dionisio Romero, to Vladimiro Montesinos and used insider connections to advance the Romero group’s interests. Flores is simply too close to the rich and powerful in this country to make a convincing case that she is outraged by the injustice of the status quo.
Whereas Flores and Humala are the mirror image of one another, Alan Garcia has a distinct profile. He is the only candidate running explicitly as the leader of a political party, APRA. Even if Garcia does not make it into the second round, he is still likely to have the largest bloc of seats in the congress. Under a parliamentary system, Garcia would be the prime minister. In Peru’s winner-take-call presidential system, however, the winner of the largest plurality of seats may still be shut out of executive power. If Garcia does not win this election, he is likely to step aside to become a sort of “historic leader” within the party while another generation of leaders steps up to assume the reins of the party apparatus.
Garcia should not be counted out prematurely, however. At this very same stage in the campaign in 2001, Garcia was within a few percentage points of Flores and in the final week he surpassed her. He continued to rise and came close to beating out Toledo in the second round. Had the second round taken a couple more weeks he might have won. At this point, Garcia has 23 percent of the vote, according to APOYO, up from 22 percent last week and 21 percent the week before. This is a slow rise, but should it continue this week, and should Flores continue her slow decent, the two would be nearly tied by next Sunday.
Garcia’s support is evenly spread across Peru’s geography and across its class structure. He has 20 percent support in Lima, 24 in urban areas in the provinces, and 25 percent in rural areas. He has 33 and 32 percent in the north coast and northern highlands, respectively. These are APRA’s historic strongholds. In Arequipa and the southern coast he has 22 percent, 21 percent in the central highlands, and 17 percent in the southern highlands. His level of support in the jungle is 17 percent. Garcia is not well liked in the richest strata of voters, but his support varies between 18 and 25 percent from the upper middle to the poorest sectors. APRA is a traditional multi-class party, and it has some appeal with pretty much every group and area of Peru outside the wealthiest sectors in Lima.
Much is being made currently about the prospect of APRA placing second in this election. One of the arguments is that only APRA can stop Humala. The argument has some problems. In the first place, APRA has not grown fast enough to show real momentum in this election. Second, most projections show APRA’s Garcia losing against Humala, whereas Flores would beat both Humala and (especially) Garcia. Of course, such projections must be taken with a grain of salt. Asking people how they will vote in a second round involves making hypothetical assumptions about who the candidates are.
A runoff between Garcia and Flores would involve a major polarization between Lima and the provinces, rich and poor. In this polarization, my own hunch is that Flores would do less well that the poll projections for second round outcomes suggest. A runoff between Garcia and Humala would involve a very different kind of polarization. Garcia would attempt to cast such a race as a competition between a parveneu and an experienced leader; between an improvised candidate without a party organization, and a known quantity backed by Peru’s best organized and most disciplined party machine.
The APRA party has acted like a loyal opposition over the past 5 years, and it’s leadership has attempted to demonstrated through its actions that it is in a position to govern responsibly. This record would be contrasted with the impetuousness and rebelliousness demonstrated by Ollanta Humala in the two armed rebellions with which he is associated. On television this evening Garcia is seen laying wreaths on the graves of policemen killed in Andahuaylas in an assault on a police station by Antauro Humala last year. One of the reasons for this uprising was to protest the forced retirement of Ollanta Humala from the armed forces.
The trouble that Garcia faces is, of course, that his disastrous tenure in office in 1985-1990 makes it easy for someone like Humala to say that Garcia is a has-been who has had his chance to govern and should step aside for someone who represents real change. Garcia has been assiduous about locating himself close to the median voter. This is always a good strategy in a country like Peru where, notwithstanding deep social and ethnic divisions, most voters consider themselves to be in at the center. The problem is that Garcia is not much liked by voters at the center. His personal negative ratings are very high.

Written by Michael Ha

April 2nd, 2006 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Analysis & Opinion

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