Peru Election 2006

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Cynthia Sanborn on the Debate

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Cynthia Sanborn was on RPP commenting on the debate last night. She read my description of the debate, and wrote the following response:

Gustavo Yamada, Fernando Villarán and I ended up staying in RPP with Raul Vargas throughout the debate and making comments after each block, at the commercial breaks. We watched the debate on the TV monitors in order to be able to transmit to listeners what they were not seeing. Because I think I watched pretty closely, I beg to disagree with a few of your points in the blog summary — about Humala winning on style, and on his closing statement being the strongest.
Frankly, I think Humala showed an incredible lack of style, clarity or timing, all of which he needed to make effective jabs at Garcia – he came out swinging and took the anticipated aggressive stance, but in my view he didn’t pull it off well. He read a lot from notes, apparently unfamiliar or uncomfortable with some of the issues at hand, and missed a number of excellent opportunities to take the initiative or get back at Garcia’s weak spots. From the very start, when Garcia criticized him for arriving late, he could have made a retort about Garcia making all of us wait in long lines during his past government, but instead he opted for an obvious lie. Everybody who watched TV saw what actually happened, that it wasn’t Apristas who held him up but his stopping for an agua mineral, so what was the point of saying that? Under pressure, what else would he lie about?
(Aside — miiltary professionals are noted for their punctuality, even in Peru, so I don’t think anyone believes he arrived late by accident).
During various other times he could have reminded the audience in general, understandable terms of the errors of Garcias first government — indeed, he HAD to do that to counter Garcia’s image of newfound maturity and redemption– but instead he made oblique references to Rodrigo Franco and Mantilla, which younger voters might not even understand or care much about (unfortunately). Garcia went after Toledo, not Humala, and I think that is what many voters have fresh in mind — replacing an often tardy, often frivolous, often incomprehensible president with somebody serious and authoritative. Like García?
Formerly known as “Caballo Loco”, Garcia now looked extremely tranquilo y sereno. Humala was not able to provoke him, try as he might, and instead let himself be provoked on the Andahuaylas issue — “pisó el palito” as they say, about his brother, instead of changing the topic or getting back at APRA. Really, I thought he was a mediocre sparring partner, at some points even repeating the promises and programs Garcia had just enunciated (“analfabetismo cero”). Even if he did make some good points (the Montesinos issue was a good point, for example, which Garcia evaded), and even if he did put forth some programmatic ideas that differentiate him from Garcia and can resonate with voters (seguridad ciudadana con participacion, fortalecer alcaldes, defensa de RRNN, etc).
In the closing statements, Garcia looked straight at the camera and thanked the Peruvian people (and Dios). Humala read a canned statement, did not look at the audience, and did not thank anyone but himself. The bit about not taking the presidential salary — now who believes THAT? Really, I did not see that as a strong closing statement.
In any case, it was useful to see both of them in action and I think Humala will certainly retain his committed followers after this, but I don’t think that kind of performance in the debates or on the road — is going to capture significant numbers of indecisos. Garcia, for his part, was so full of catchy programs and sound bites that it soon began to sound like too much. But he didn’t really have to worry about this — just had to avoid losing points to Humala and, except for the Montesinos issue, I don’t think he did.
We will see that the polls say, and what actually happens on election day of course.

Cynthia Sanborn is a political scientist who teaches in the Centro de Investigaciones de la Universidad del Pacifico (CIUP). She did her PhD at Harvard University, and works on public policy, democracy, development, and civil society in Latin America.

Written by Michael Ha

May 22nd, 2006 at 7:46 pm

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