The Peruvian Elections- And You Think the Process is Messy Here?

On April 1oth, Peru held their presidential election.  The Peruvian Constitution has a one-term limit, although anyone can run non-consecutively for the four-year term.  Thus, a President from eight years ago can run again in a later election.  Peru uses a two-round system to elect their President with the top two vote-getters on April 10th advancing to a runoff in June unless someone gets to 50% in the first round.  That runoff will feature Keiko Fujimoro against Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Unlike the United States, there are several viable parties in Peru which is why getting to 50% is often difficult.  This year, there were five main candidates entering this election.  Alan Garcia represented the Popular Alliance, Peru’s oldest political party.  Garcia is a former president having previously served two terms.  Veronika Mendoza ran under the Broad Left Front banner.  This is an amalgamation of leftist political parties with such names as the Communist Party of Peru, the Peasant and Student Worker Front and the Revolutionary Socialist Front.

For the Popular Action is Alfredo Barnechea, a member of Peru’s Congress.  This party came about in 1956 as an answer to the more conservative parties that ruled at that time.  As such, it is considered center-left.  Pedro Pablo Kuczynski represents the Peruvians for Change Party, a center-right party formed in 2011 specifically for Kuczynski’s run in 2016.

Finally- almost- there was the Popular Force led by Keiko Fujimoro, the daughter of the former President, currently in jail on corruption and murder convictions (which explains why no matter how bad American politics looks, it pales in comparison to other countries).  The Popular Force has developed into a center-right party rather than an extreme right wing party which her father led.  The elder Fujimoro is noted for his human rights abuses, notably the forced sterilization of over 200,000 Peruvians to bring the population under control, and his use of organized death squads.  At the time, Peru was faced with a serious insurgency led by the Maoist Shining Path terrorist group.  The Fujimoro administration was characterized as staunchly anti-Communist, pro- free market, forcefully anti-terrorist, closed and with no regard to government institutions.  The Popular Force claims to follow his legacy, although their stances fall short of the elder Fujimoro’s actions.  There were two other candidates/parties in the race that were disqualified.  More on that later because it is important.

To understand the constantly shifting political winds in Peru, one needs to understand their economy.  The Peruvian economy was in a boom driven by strong construction projects by the Chinese coupled with a high demand for Peruvian minerals for the Chinese manufacturing sector, particularly iron ore and copper.  However, given over-production coupled with the downturn in the Chinese economy which lessened the need for these minerals, the economy is suffering in Peru.  In 2012, for instance, Peruvian exports reached an historic high.  Since then, they have fallen 17%.

Politically, this has led to a demand for change.  This partially explains why Peru’s current ruling party is not even fielding a candidate this year.  However, it was conceded that whoever won the election- even the Leftist parties- they were all open to foreign investment as a means to turn the economy around.  Some candidates were graduates of schools in the US like Georgetown, Harvard and Maryland.  Others seek to diversify the economy by attracting high tech companies to Peru.  Keiko Fujimoro’s party, for example, is highly popular in the more urban regions of Peru, especially the Lima area where 70% of the population is located.  Humala’s Nationalist Party, the current rulers, suffered over a perceived ability to handle rising crime and a slowing economy.

There is also some outposts of Shining Path resistance in the southern area of Peru.  Strong rural activists representing environmentalists and native Peruvians have, at times, managed to shut down foreign copper mining interests.  However, for the most part these are little blips given the Peruvian security force’s presence in the area.  The Shining Path is limited to two river valleys and lacks the manpower to break out of that area to be of significance.

Along the way, two parties/candidates were ruled ineligible to run in the elections which created controversy and protests in Lima.  Peru has some stringent election laws.  In order to get on the ballot, one must obtain a certain number of signatures on a petition.   If they are caught buying signatures or offering favors, they are immediately disqualified.  Further, if a party violates their own rules, as determined by a national elections board, they can also be disqualified.

In the case of Cesar Acuna, video evidence of him paying for signatures at a market automatically disqualified him.  The more troublesome disqualification was that of Julio Guzman where it was alleged he violated the party’s rules for getting on the ballot.  Although he appealed, he lost and was kicked off the ballot.  He now cries foul for two reasons.

Guzman is, by all accounts, the consummate outsider.  He has no political experience whatsoever.  When he originally announced his candidacy, he was polling somewhere near 1%.  By contrast, Fujimoro was in the 35% range.  However, like here in the United States, Peruvian voters (by the way, voting is mandatory in Peru) were increasingly becoming dissatisfied with the more organized parties.  They were looking for an outside voice and Guzman surged in the polls using a grassroots campaign.  When disqualified, he was polling at 22% and increasing on Fujimoro.  Guzman contends that the disqualification process coincides with his rise in the polls and blames it on a corrupt system that wants to keep outsiders out.  His second complaint, which is legitimate, is that another party violated the very rule his candidacy was accused of violating but allowed to stay on the ballot.

The bottom line is that Peru’s elections are very messy affairs no matter how one analyzes the situation.  There are shreds of truth to Guzman’s assertions, and they even prompted Congressional hearings here in the United States.  The EU sent observers to Peru.  But as odd and/or bad as things seem here, at least we do not have government super-agency disqualifying candidates over technicalities in a draconian election law (the FEC does not even come close).  Nor do we have massive protests in the streets when a person or party is disqualified.  We don’t have to go through two rounds of voting to select a President- two extra months of campaigning and all the potential nastiness that goes with it.  Then again…