Archive for April, 2011

Peru: Choosing Between AIDS and Cancer

April 18th, 2011 4 comments
Map of Peruvian election results by department

First round of Peru's presidential election. Green=Toledo, Orange=Fujimori, Pink=Kuczynski, Red=Humala.

Just over a week ago, Peru held round one of its 2011 presidential election, which snuck up on me without there really being any coverage here in the states. I have been extremely interested in this election not just because of my interests and connections to Peru, but also because of the unpredictability of past Peruvian elections, the giant clash of personalities involved this round, and the stark choice of directions the country could opt to take.

The BBC posted a good summary of the main candidates here, but I will give you a quick primer.

Basically, there were five candidates worth noting: three centrists, one rightist, and one leftist. I should mention that Peruvian presidents are limited to a five-year term, but can run again if they wait five years. Also, Peru has a history of unlikely comebacks when it comes to these contests.

Of the centrists, there were Alejandro Toledo (former president 2001-2006), Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (former finance minister under Toledo), and Luis Castañeda (former mayor of Lima). In my opinion, any one of these fellows would have made a reasonable, if perhaps not amazing, president of Peru. However, can you think of any potential negatives that could result from having so many reasonably decent centrists splitting the vote?

I’ll introduce you to them:
Also in the race was Ollanta Humala (a left-wing nationalist supported by Hugo Chávez in the 2006 election) and Keiko Fujimori (the right-wing populist daughter of Alberto Fujimori, a former president currently serving 25 years in prison for corruption and brutal use of death squads).

It is rare for a candidate in Peru to get over 50% of the vote, so Peruvians are used to run-off voting. That is to say, there’s normally a second round where the top two candidates have to duke it out. As you might have guessed by this point, it was Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori that achieved that honor. Half of Peruvians say they would never vote for either of them. The awful choice that this represents for the country led the Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa to quip that the next round will be like “choosing between AIDS and cancer.”

Graph of Peruvian presidential election polling

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ("PPK") surged in the last two months, but so did Ollanta Humala, who ended up in the lead. Toledo's decline deprived Peru of a centrist option for the run-off.

So that is the choice facing Peruvians. Personally, I was hoping Toledo would get a second chance, since the majority of the criticism he received was in regards to rumors about his personal life, rather than policy. His prudent actions stabilized the nation in 2001 when Alberto Fujimori was ousted for corruption and the opposition coalesced behind Toledo. He opted to keep most of Fujimori’s successful economic reforms while repudiating the corruption. Alas, Toledo’s early lead melted away.

So Peruvians are left to choose between AIDS and Cancer. Let’s look this over. On the one hand, there’s Keiko Fujimori (not to be confused with Keiko the orca). Her father is perhaps the most controversial leader in Peruvian history. He managed to bring Peru out of chaos, fighting both hyperinflation and the Maoist terrorist group called Sendero Luminoso or “Shining Path.” In the process, he oversaw human rights violations, massive bribery, and a maneuver suspending Congress and the constitution.

Keiko Fujimori

Keiko Fujimori is running on her father's record as much as her own.

While Keiko supporters indignantly point out that it is wrong to judge a daughter by the crimes of her father, they fail to realize that by explicitly invoking her father in the campaign and pledging to build on his success, Keiko is more than tacitly approving of her father’s decisions. It’s not far-fetched to say she’s running on a “Wasn’t my dad great?” platform. When Keiko’s mom ran against her father for president (yes, this actually happened), prompting a divorce, Alberto made his daughter the new First Lady. So it’s not like their relationship was distant. Indeed, the biggest concern is that Keiko is almost certain to pardon her father and get him out of prison.

To her credit, supporters point out that she vocally opposed Vladimiro Montesinos, her father’s right-hand man and mastermind behind bribing members of Congress. Having been First Lady at age 19 and a member of Congress since 2006, she does have political experience, but she’s still awfully young at 35.

Ollanta Humala

Humala has shed his red shirt in favor of suits and ties, but Peruvians aren't sure about his newfound centrism.

On the other hand, there’s Ollanta Humala. This former army colonel, who led a failed rebellion against Alberto Fujimori, almost won the last Peruvian election – pledging to nationalize vast swaths of Peru’s natural resource industries and spread the wealth à la Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales. Aged 47, he is also quite young and has no real political experience. He represents a type of leftist populism that plays well among poorer communities and those of indigenous background, but has foreign investors and free market supporters feeling jittery.

However, Humala has softened his rhetoric this time and hired advisors from Brazil’s center-left Worker’s Party. He says he will not undo the free-market agreements of his predecessor or go crazy with nationalizations, but he does seek a larger role for the state in reducing inequality, and he does want to raise taxes on foreign mining companies. His statement to the world seems to be, “I will not be a Chávez! I will be a Lula!” (referring to Brazil’s recent popular center-left president).

So, two populists. Two polarizing figures. Two ends of the political spectrum. Neither seems entirely trustworthy. Which will it be, Peru, AIDS or cancer?

Mario Vargas Llosa did not wait long to choose cancer, deciding that cancer is at least sometimes curable. By that I mean he has decided to support Ollanta Humala and pray to God that Humala’s move to the center is genuine. I am tempted to do the same, at least in spirit, since I fear that Keiko Fujimori is driven more by family honor than by interest in Peru. Toledo and Kuczynski are both meeting with Fujimori and Humala to extract promises for their potential support: a pledge by Humala to uphold the free market and a pledge by Fujimori to uphold human rights.

As these two battle for the voters of the vast political center between them, Peruvians will have to make their own decision. Will it be Fujimori AIDS or Humala cancer that they decide to unleash on the body politic? Personally, my bet’s on cancer.