Peru Goes To The Polls With Little Hope Of Solving The Governance Crisis

Some 25 million people are called to the polls this Sunday in Peru to elect the president for the next five years. They will do so in the midst of a prolonged political crisis, in addition to the economic and health crisis generated by the coronavirus, which has already left more than 185,000 deceased. Once again, the electorate must vote with that logic of the “lesser evil”, since neither the leftist candidate Pedro Castillo, from the Peru Libre party, nor the right-wing Keiko Fujimori, from Fuerza Popular, suppose a solid guarantee to solve the problems of instability and governance of the country.

It is not surprising that a large part of the Peruvian citizenry vote between disaffection, fed up and despair, since the Andean country is still immersed in a deep political crisis that has been brewing since 2016, when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won the elections to Keiko Fujimori and Congress were dominated by a Fujimori majority, so that there were always confrontations between the executive and the judiciary. Kuczynski, amid allegations of corruption, later ended up resigning from office and was replaced by Martín Vizcarra.

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That political crisis continued and reached its most critical point in November 2020, when Congress removed Vizcarra as president and Manuel Merino took office as the new president.

After the wave of protests that spread throughout the territory and that ended with two young people killed and dozens of injured by the police repression, Merino was forced to resign and finally it was Francisco Sagasti who took office as interim president. In just eight days, Peru had three presidents and none of them were elected at the polls.

In addition to the political and economic instability of recent months, a polarized electoral campaign has been added in which there have been more reproaches and attacks than proposals by the presidential candidates.

“It was not exactly a campaign for debate or for the presentation of ideas. The tone of confrontation has not lowered at any time, ”political analyst Gonzalo Banda tells elDiario.es. The governance environment after the elections, he adds, “does not give rise to much optimism, since this polarizing discourse is going to harm the quality of our democracy.”

In the first round of the elections, held on April 11, Castillo gave the surprise by being in first position with 19.8% of the votes, while Keiko Fujimori achieved second place by gathering 13.4% of the support. In the second round of this Sunday a very close result is expected, as several polls almost drew a tie between the two. The last one carried out by Ipsos gave the candidate from the left a minimal advantage, with a 51.1% intention to vote, over his right-wing rival, who obtained 48.9%.

“They are only two points of difference between the two and there are already chants of fraud linked to the Peruvian right. Everything indicates that if the winning candidate does not win with a solvent difference, there may be problems ”, warns Banda.

Just as the Peruvian electorate is used to voting for the “lesser evil”, it has also experienced a tight second electoral round on other occasions, such as when Kuczynski won by only 40,000 votes difference.

“The funny thing is that the people who have ended up ruling in Peru in recent years did not have much support from the beginning, from the first round. In this case, more than the lesser evil, people are going to vote against the greater evil, which for a sector of the population could be a moderate to radical left-wing candidacy or the return of Fujimori to power ”, says the Peruvian political scientist Denisse Rodríguez-Olivari, professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Although Castillo and Fujimori are two polar opposites, they both share authoritarian traits and a conservative social agenda that does not contemplate gender equality, same-sex marriage, or abortion.

Castillo, 51, is a rural teacher and union leader from the Cajamarca region, located about 900 kilometers from Lima. He achieved that surprising victory in the first round thanks to the vote of the Andean countryside, a sector of the population that has historically been ignored in the country and that has nothing to do with the Lima elite.

The leftist candidate “represents the common, average Peruvian, who is excited about change,” says Banda. “There is a message that exceeds Castillo’s mistakes, because despite having made many, there are voters who have been excited as a family to his rallies, people who have been ignored all their lives and who have never been listened to,” he says. the expert.

What the candidate has hinted at in his interventions is that “he is a genuine person, who knows the rural problems, the Andean ones, the school teachers, the trade unionists… As a candidate he is much more legitimate than Keiko and arouses more sympathy , but people are also terrified that I can implement ideas from the radical left, ”explains Rodríguez-Olivari, a member of the #NoSinMujeres Network of Politologists.

Castillo announced his presidential candidacy in 2020 to represent Peru Libre after the leader of that party, Vladimir Cerrón, was convicted of corruption and disqualified.

This political formation is described in its program as a left-wing Marxist party, “democratic, decentralist, internationalist, inclusive, sovereign, humanist and anti-imperialist.” However, there are many critical voices that question this political formation and political scientists such as Eduardo Dargent, a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, define it as a populist platform whose leader -Cerrón- “has the discourse of Latin American radical leftists that he considers that there is a corrupt elite that has captured power and the people come as a redeemer to rescue it ”.

In his government program, Castillo proposes changing the economic model, a strengthened State with control over the nationalization of companies in strategic sectors and creating a new Constitution through a Constituent Assembly, among other measures.

The leftist candidate, Dargent recalls, comes from a “very tough union tradition, which leaves deep doubts, not only of democratic conviction, but of knowledge of the functioning of democracy itself”, and there are also contradictory speeches, since “there are attacks against corrupt elites but also against control bodies that have tried to regulate the high level of informality in the country ”.

For a sector of the population, Castillo represents the ghost of communism, which is associated with the Shining Path terrorism of the 80s and 90s. For this reason, and because it would represent a change in the economic system, the leftist candidate has received the greatest attacks. during the campaign.

But is it really as radical as the Peruvian press has shown? In Rodríguez Olivari’s opinion, in recent weeks a whole “machinery to erode his candidacy” has been put in place, a demonization of the left that is known in the country as “terruqueo” and that qualifies as terrorist any type of agenda that does not fit the conservative right. “That Castillo is not the typical politician of the establishment, that he is not white, that he has indigenous features and that he speaks with an accent typical of the Cajamarca region, are factors that add to the demonization of his candidacy ”, says the expert.

In this sense, Dargent considers that “even imagining that Castillo was a converted and confessed communist, it is very difficult for him to develop such a logic,” and if he came to power, he would do so with the governance problems that exist in the country. country, assures the teacher.

Keiko Fujimori, 46, is the eldest daughter and political heir of former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), and is running for the third time as a presidential candidate. His strength lies precisely in the political experience he has accumulated over the years: he knows the system and knows perfectly how an electoral campaign works – he also reached the second round in 2011 and 2016-. It also has a great support from the media and the establishment economic, in addition to the support of prominent figures such as the writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who has not hesitated to ask for the vote for the right-wing candidate, considering that she represents that “lesser evil.”

His main disadvantage, however, “is that he is Keiko Fujimori and people do not believe him,” says Rodríguez-Olivari. This lack of credibility is reflected even in the recent reconciliation with his brother and former congressman Kenji Fujimori, because according to the Datum International survey, 70% of those consulted believe that it is a lie and that it was a campaign strategy.

The right-wing candidate has also made other efforts to inspire confidence. He has signed up to two democratic oaths in which he agrees to preserve democracy and freedom of expression, strengthen institutions, defend the Constitution, and fight corruption. “But it is not enough,” says the political scientist.

“No matter what he offers, he has already reached his ceiling and there are people who he will not be able to convince because he is Keiko Fujimori and he defends ideas that are not negotiable for a sector of the population,” he explains.

The leader of Fuerza Popular is committed to the permanence of the neoliberal economic model and the 1993 Constitution, promulgated by her father’s government. Among other measures, in its government plan it assures that it will promote “opportunities in formal work, simplifying processes for the development of enterprises and promoting public-private partnerships.”

She has also reiterated that if she is elected president she will pardon her father, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity.

Keiko Fujimori, who has already entered preventive prison twice, is accused of criminal organization, money laundering, falsehood and obstruction of Justice for hiding alleged donations from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to finance its 2011 electoral campaign, accusations that she rejects . For these crimes, the Prosecutor’s Office asks for 30 years in prison and the right-wing candidate would avoid trial if she becomes president, as she enjoys immunity.

Regardless of who achieves the presidential seat, Peru needs to invest in health and commit itself that vaccination against the coronavirus will continue to advance, since interim president Sagasti confirmed that the country will have 60 million doses to vaccinate the population older than 18 years before the end of 2021. The next president will also have to be in charge of reactivating an economy badly hit by the pandemic, in addition to governing and dealing with a fragmented Congress to avoid a political crisis like that of recent years.

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