Peru: What’s Next for Humala?

Ollanta Humala; photo by EFE/PAOLO AGUILARLeft-wing candidate Ollanta Humala emerged the victor in the most highly polarized and contested presidential elections in Peru’s recent history, in which polls showed the candidates in a statistical dead heat going into the June 5 vote. Humala won with 51.5 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Keiko Fujimori — daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, now serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations committed during his 10-year authoritarian regime — received 48.5 percent.

Humala captured the vote of those who feel left out of Peru’s steady economic growth of the past 10 years. His constituency wants social policies that go beyond handing out food aid, as Fujimori’s father did, to include programs that generate jobs and improve the quality of life, as Humala has promised to do. He also ultimately gained the support of those reluctant to endorse either candidate. In the end, this pivotal group decided that Humala was a better option than another Fujimori in the presidential palace. 

Humala moved to the center to win the elections. With a slim majority in Congress and a still-strong conservative opposition, however, he may well find it difficult to implement even his moderate program of change.

Volatile Electoral Process

Humala’s rapid ascent in the polls prior to the first round of voting on April 10 caught observers by surprise. Just a few weeks prior to the elections, he was polling in the low teens, and former President Alejandro Toledo was considered a shoe-in for the first round vote. But by mid-March, Toledo started to slip in the polls, while Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a businessman who served as Toledo’s prime minister, saw his numbers rise. In the end, Toledo, Kuczynski and two-time mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda Lossio split the center-right vote. Together, they captured nearly 44 percent, while Humala came in first with 31.7 percent and Keiko Fujmori came in second with 23.5 percent. Fujimori basically maintained a solid block of about 20 percent of the electorate that has supported her father ever since his regime collapsed in 2000 in the wake of massive corruption scandals and charges of electoral fraud.

The results illustrate the volatility of electoral politics in Peru. If the vote had been held a few weeks earlier, Toledo would have likely beat out Fujimori in the first round. Had it been held a few weeks later, Kuczynski had a good chance of emerging victorious. In the end, the fragmented political field allowed Fujimori to make it into the second round. And Humala would most likely have lost to Toledo or Kuczynski in a second round vote.  Ironically, the two candidates with the highest negative ratings made it into the second round. Polls prior to the first round revealed that over 50 percent of the population said that they would never vote for either Humala or Fujimori. In the second round, then, many voters found themselves forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils.”

Several factors help explain these results. Political parties have all but disappeared, along with strong political allegiances. Although each of the top five candidates had a core block of support, none generated much enthusiasm among the electorate more broadly. And apart from Humala, all were proposing more or less the same: continuity with market-oriented economic policies.

Perhaps the most surprising element of these elections is that the daughter of a former president who fled the country in disgrace after 10 years of massive corruption, abuse of power, and human rights violations came so close to the presidency just 11 years later. This is especially so since Keiko Fujimori ran on a platform invoking the legacy of her father’s government. Ironically, at her post-election rally after the first round of voting, supporters did not yell her name, but rather “Chino, Chino, Chino”—a popular nickname for her father. Although she tried to distance herself somewhat from her father’s government as the second round of voting neared, she was less successful than Humala in the race to the center. In the end, Humala convinced more voters that his move from a radical to a more moderate agenda was more sincere than Keiko Fujimori’s efforts. Humala was also able to move past allegations that he supported an attempted coup – led by his brother Antauro, now in prison — and that he committed human rights violations as an army captain during Peru’s internal armed conflict. Many voters decided that a return to Fujimorismo would have been worse.  Keiko Fujimori also became the candidate of Peru’s economic elite, which proved to be detrimental to her support in poorer sectors.

Humala’s effort to moderate his discourse and reach out to the political center during the second half of the campaign was crucial to his victory. He sought to distance himself from Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, with whom he was closely associated in his previous run for the presidency in 2006. Instead, Humala refashioned himself as a disciple of the highly popular former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. He also broadened his team of advisers to include a range of progressive and moderate Peruvians. The new technical team produced a consensus document that reflects this broadened political coalition. The document proposes to improve Peru’s vastly unequal income distribution while respecting the free market economic model. At the same time, Humala’s team has promised to make the Peruvian state more transparent, to root out corruption, and to respect democracy and human rights. Most importantly, the new plan offers a government of concertacion nacional, or a government of national unity. The outspoken support of Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa was also decisive in increasing support for Humala among undecided voters.

Of particular concern, during the sharp and polarizing political process — which lasted a grueling two months between the first and second rounds — the race- and class-based divisions that are such a remarkable feature of Peruvian society resurfaced with a virulence not seen since the height of the internal armed conflict in Peru. Peruvians concerned about the tone of racist remarks created a Facebook page called Democratic Shame in which people could denounce such behavior. Over 7,000 people have joined the page and have shared offensive remarks they have received or observed in the course of the campaign. Ollanta Humala’s Facebook page was frequently tagged with racist comments and posts, such as: “Shitty Indian, renounce your candidacy.” Tackling the underlying racism and classism that reared its ugly head in this electoral process will be a long-term and difficult process.

Political Transition

For the most part, Humala has gotten off to a good start in calming the political waters after the elections, promising a government of national unity that brings together the country’s diverse political sectors. Fujimori supporters jumped the gun by demanding, even before Humala was declared the official winner, that he announce his economic team to reasssure national and international investors – even though key Humala advisors repeatedly said that there will be no nationalizations or property confiscations and that they would ensure macroeconomic stability. Conservative economic elites are threatening to withdraw investments from the country if Humala strays from economic orthodoxy and will no doubt show resistance to even moderate policy change, such as increasing taxes on mining companies (hardly considered radical in Latin America today).

At the same time, Humala will have to move quickly to implement the promises of his campaign to make Peru a more equitable and inclusive society. Humala’s victory is a stunning metaphor for the long-standing divide between Lima and the rest of the country. Though he lost by a significant margin in the capital (where Fujimori got 58.4 percent of the vote) and in some northern departments, he won 17 of 26 regions outright, concentrated in the south, central, and jungle regions of the country. He took Puno with 78 percent of the vote, Cusco with 75 percent, and Ayacucho with 73 percent. He won with over 60 percent of the vote in Apurímac, Arequipa, Huancavelica, Huánuco, Madre de Dios, Moquegua, and Tacna. Humala did not win a mandate for radical change, but he certainly has a mandate for some change. In particular, he has a mandate to address the concerns of the provinces regarding the concentration of economic and political power in Lima. Yet at the same time, Humala won by moving beyond his core political base to gain support from more moderate sectors. Some of these moderates support Humala’s vision of a more just country, but they may have very different ideas about how to achieve that change. In short, he will face pressures from all sides.

Another major challenge Humala faces is a deeply fractured Congress, which since 1993 has been a unicameral body and now has 130 members. His Gana Peru coalition has 47 congressional members. Humala thus lacks an outright majority that would allow him to easily implement his economic and social programs. He also faces a powerful and usually united opposition in Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza 2011 which has 37 members, with potential allies among another 20 representatives from right-wing parties, which will most likely try to block his social and economic proposals. However, the last-minute support thrown to Humala’s candidacy by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo has allowed him to build at least a short-term coalition with Peru Posible’s 21 congressional representatives, the third largest block in Congress. That gives Humala a potential total of 68 votes in Congress, an extremely slim majority, and short of the two-thirds vote required, for instance, to make appointments to key posts like the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office or the head of the Central Bank. 

Finally, the way the second-round elections played out revealed the deep deficiencies still plaguing Peruvian democracy. Alberto Fujimori bribed or blackmailed the press into supporting his government. In a disturbing continuity, much of the mainstream media – owned by powerful economic elites —willingly supported his daughter’s campaign this time around, shamelessly presenting campaign propaganda as news. If the last two months are any indicator, the relationship between the government and the main media outlets could become quite antagonistic, which could have terrible consequences for Peruvian democracy and freedom of the press as well as the right of Peruvians to have impartial sources of national news. 

Regional Implications

Another arena where Humala has sought to calm fears of radical change is international relations. He has immediately signaled the international community that his government will seek to maintain good relations with countries across the political spectrum. Hence, his first international foray to Brazil was followed by meetings with the presidents of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile – rather than the more radical leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, or Ecuador. Nonetheless, Humala’s victory reinforces the trend toward strengthening regional bodies and increasing independence from the United States.

Humala joins the group of progressive presidents that have taken office in South America in recent years: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Despite his conservative credentials, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has departed from former president Alvaro Uribe’s unconditional loyalty to the US government, seeking to shore up relations with Colombia’s neighbors, playing a stronger role in regional forums, and at times taking positions different from those of Washington. The only outlier in South American political dynamics now is Chile’s right-wing government.  All indications are that Humala will strongly back and seek to strengthen the South American Community of Nations, UNASUR, which is playing an increasingly important role in regional diplomacy – and in standing up to Washington. He will also likely seek to revitalize the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and consistently engage with MERCOSUR. In other words, Humala’s election gives a boost to regional integration efforts.

Humala’s first foreign visit after his election sends a clear signal that Brazil is likely to be his primary point of reference in international relations. At the same time, initial indications are that U.S.-Peruvian relations will remain solid for now. Throughout the campaign, Humala reiterated his desire to have good relations with Washington. Following his election, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reached out with an invitation to visit Washington and Humala has indicated his intention to travel to the U.S. capital. Given that the United States has no ambassadors in neighboring Bolivia and Ecuador (or in Venezuela), it behooves the Obama administration to maintain a good working relationship with the incoming Humala government.

20 June 2011 ·

Humala’s Victory in Peru’s Elections Inspire Hope, but Challenges Abound

By Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

With nearly 99.697 percent of the vote counted as of this morning, Ollanta Humala has maintained a three point lead over Keiko Fujimori, assuring his victory in Peru’s hotly contested presidential elections. Humala has maintained his three point lead, with 51.5 percent of the vote compared to 48.5 percent for Keiko Fujimori. Humala’s win was hailed by many as a victory for democracy and the promise of social justice. In the end, despite the highly polarized electoral climate, hope defeated fear.

Yet as noted by Peruvian analyst Carlos Basombrío, Humala’s honeymoon appears to be over before it even began. Despite the fact that he has yet to be declared the official winner, since Sunday night Fujimori supporters have been demanding that he announce his economic team in order to calm the nerves of national and international investors – this notwithstanding that key Humala advisors have repeatedly said that there will be no nationalizations or property confiscations and that they would ensure macroeconomic stability. Yesterday Humala announced his transition team, which will be led by his Vice Presidential candidate, Marisol Espinoza. The list reflects the diversity of views that his campaign came to represent, including, for example, more left-wing economists such as Félix Jiménez and Humberto Campodónico and the moderates who joined forces with Humala in the second round, such as Kurt Burneo, who was the deputy Economic Minister, and Daniel Schydlowsky, who was the head of the state bank, COFIDE, under the Toledo government. 

Humala is already being pressured from all sides. He will have to implement the promises of his campaign to develop economic and social policies that will make Peru a more equitable and inclusive society – promises which brought him over 30 percent of the vote in the first round. But he won on Sunday by moving beyond his political base to gain support from more moderate sectors who in many instances voted for Humala in order to prevent Keiko Fujimori from being elected president, which they feared would mean a return to the corrupt and undemocratic practices of her father’s government. While some of these moderates support Humala’s core idea of the need to achieve a more just country, they may have very different ideas about how to achieve that change.

Humala is also under tremendous pressure from conservative economic elites who are threatening to withdraw investments from the country if he strays from economic orthodoxy and who will no doubt show resistance to even moderate policy change, such as increasing taxes on mining companies (hardly considered radical in Latin America today). Experiences in neighboring countries, such as Bolivia, give credence to concerns of attempts at economic sabotage by those staunchly opposed to Humala. Indeed, in her surprisingly late concession speech (although it was clear on Sunday night that Humala was poised to win the elections, Keiko Fujimori waited until 5:30 pm the next day to admit her defeat), Fujimori warned that she represents 48 percent of the population and that her supporters will insist on “continuity” with regards to the prevailing economic model. 

Humala’s victory is a stunning metaphor for the long-standing divide between Lima and the rest of the country. In stark contrast to past Peruvian elections, as noted in Otra Mirada, for the first time Lima and the agro-export northern regions of the country did not determine the winner. Though he lost by a significant margin in Lima (where Fujimori got 58.4 percent of the vote) and in some northern departments, he won 17 of 26 regions outright, concentrated in the south, central and jungle regions of the country.  He took Puno with 78 percent of the vote, Cusco with 75 percent, and Ayacucho with 73 percent. He won with over 60 percent of the vote in Apurímac, Arequipa, Huancavelica, Huánuco, Madre de Dios, Moquegua and Tacna. While it may be fair to say that Humala did not win a mandate for radical change, he certainly has a mandate for some change. In particular, he has a mandate to address the concerns of the provinces regarding the concentration of economic and political power in Lima.

Another major challenge Humala faces is a deeply fractured Congress, which since 1993 has been a unicameral body and now has 130 members. His Gana Peru coalition has 47 members of Congress. Humala thus lacks an outright majority that would allow him to easily implement his economic and social programs. He also faces a powerful and usually united opposition in Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza 2011 which has 37 members, with  potential allies among another 20 representatives from right-wing parties (including APRA’s four representatives), which will most likely try to block his social and economic proposals. However, the last-minute support thrown to Humala’s candidacy by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo has allowed him to build at least a short-term coalition with Peru Posible’s 21 congressional representatives, which constitute the third largest block in Congress. That gives Humala a potential total of 68 votes in Congress, an extremely slim majority but a majority nonetheless.  It remains to be seen whether or not Humala will be able to hold this coalition together in order to initiate crucial social and economic changes – and fend off the likely incessant attacks from the political opposition.

With the second largest voting bloc in Congress, Fujimori’s Fuerza 2011 is a political force to be reckoned with. Yet as Gustavo Gorriti asserts in IDL-Reporteros: “Despite the statistics, the defeat of fujimorismo leaves this movement with an uncertain future.” He points out that even with the support of Peru’s powerful economic sectors and business associations, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani (an outspoken member of Opus Dei), the major media and President Alan Garcia, Fujimori still lost the election. 

Of particular significance for Keiko Fujimori is what now happens to her father. Securing his release from jail remains a primary objective of his supporters and now there will be even more pressure for some action to be taken before Humala assumes office on July 28.  As we reported previously, it appears that the Constitutional Tribunal is poised to accept a writ of habeas corpus presented by Alberto Fujimori’s attorneys, which would amount to a revocation of the ratification of the original sentence. If that happens, a new trial to review the appeal of the April 2009 conviction would be held that could lead to Fujimori’s exoneration, or to a different sentence that could facilitate a presidential pardon.

Alternatively, Peru’s president could immediately pardon Fujimori.  (Although Peruvian law prohibits pardons from being granted to those convicted of aggravated kidnapping, as was the case with Fujimori, and international law prohibits pardons from being granted to those convicted of crimes against humanity, it would hardly be the first time that a Peruvian president subverted the law.) Already, there are calls for Garcia to do just that. Just two days after the elections, APRA Congressman Jorge Vargas called on Garcia to pardon Fujimori on humanitarian grounds, due to his age and allegedly poor health. An opinion poll already shows that most Peruvians oppose granting a pardon to Fujimori. It would be a true mockery of the will of the Peruvian voters if after they rejected the return of fujimorismo, the convicted former president were set free.

8 June 2011 ·

WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt discusses Ollanta Humala’s victory in Peru and challenges he will face when he assumes the presidency on July 28 on Al Jazeera English (June 5, 2011).

6 June 2011 ·

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Humala Wins

Peruvians voted June 5. The results indicate that Ollanta Humala, a center-left candidate, will be the country’s next president. Adam Isacson talks to WOLA Senior Fellow Coletta Youngers about what Humala’s victory means for Peruvian politics and U.S. policy.

6 June 2011 ·

Political Polarization: Humala’s First Challenge

By Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

With Ollanta Humala the virtual winner of Peru’s presidential elections, it is time to think about the very real challenges he faces as he prepares to take office on July 28, 2011.

Before analyzing the real policy and governance challenges facing Humala, we thought it important to examine an immediate challenge he faces: the need to calm the waters in Peru after a deeply polarizing political process, that pitted his nationalist proposals against the more conservative program of Keiko Fujimori. It is important to remember that Humala and Fujimori were the two candidates that generated the highest degree of rejection among Peruvian voters on the eve of the first-round elections. In the second round, then, many voters found themselves forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” This resulted in a sharp and polarizing political process, which endured a grueling two months between the first and second rounds.

The polarization rippled through Peruvian society. Families were divided over which candidate to support. One middle-class lawyer told us that she supported Humala because she was vehemently opposed to a return to fujimorismo, but that the rest of her family supported Fujimori, and they implored her not to publish negative stories about Fujimori on her Facebook page. When she refused, her brother refused to speak to her.


More worrisome, the race and class-based divisions that are such a remarkable feature of Peruvian society came to the fore with a virulence not seen since the height of the internal armed conflict in Peru. This was seen in the media, with remarks with racist undertones or even overt racism were heard frequently. Aldo Mariategui, the director of the right-wing daily Correo, wrote in his column on the day before the elections warning that Humala would be a dangerous choice for Peru and implored his fellow citizens to vote for Fujimori in sharp, denigrating tones, “Peruvian, don’t be stupid at the voting booth tomorrow.” Fernando Szyszlo, the famous Peruvian painter, said that Peruvians faced an impossible choice in Sunday’s electoral contest. A triumph of Ollanta Humala, he said, “would be the triumph of the uneducated, of the ignorant, of those who do not know what is good for the country.” If Fujimori triumphed, he said, it would be “a victory for the corrupt.”

Peruvians concerned at the tone of racist remarks created a Facebook page called “Democratic Shame” in which people could denounce such behavior. Over 7,000 people have joined the page and have shared offensive remarks they have received or observed in the course of the campaign. One post read: “Shitty Indians!!! Only they could be so ignorant!!!” Another said: “Shitty Puneños… Die of cold, now let Ollanta send you clothes!” (Many people from Puno, especially children, have died due to extreme cold weather in Puno in recent years, and there have been frequent charity campaigns to prevent more deaths.) Ollanta Humala’s Facebook page was frequently intervened with racist comments and posts, also posted on Democratic Shame’s Facebook page. After the first-round vote, one Facebook user posted: “Shitty Indian, renounce your candidacy” while another said, in allusion to Humala’s supporters, “Son of a bitch, no one wants you, people who vote for people like you have know idea of what would happen if you become president, they are ignorant just like you…”

Peru is undoubtedly a society marked by deep racism. This was noted by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which identified long-standing racism and exclusion as the root cause of the violence that devastated Peru in the 1980s and part of the 1990s. The current climate of polarization is deeply informed by this racism and by the classism that accompanies it. Humala has promised a government of national unity that brings together the country’s diverse democratic sectors and that is open to the participation of Peruvian civil society. This is an important step in the right direction, but tackling the underlying classism and racism that reared its ugly head in this electoral process will require much more than that.

LATER: Policy and governance challenges facing Ollanta Humala

6 June 2011 ·

At 88% of Official Count, Humala Close to being Declared Victorious in Peru Elections

by Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

The most recent results posted by Peruvian electoral officials early Monday morning confirm the victory of Ollanta Humala in Peru’s hotly contested elections. With 88.375% of the vote counted, Humala has won 51.276% of the vote, while Keiko Fujimori has 48.724%.

Last night, Humala gave a brief speech in which he noted that the results of the quick count vote put him as the winner in Sunday’s contest, but said that he would wait until the final official results before declaring victory. Humala’s conciliatory tone was remarkable given the high drama surrounding Peru’s elections and the deep polarization that marked the two months between the first round election results on April 10 and yesterday’s second-round vote.

Humala noted that his first task would be to “build a Peru that is more just and less unequal.” But, he noted, “not everything is possible, and will imply effort and the union of all Peruvians.” He said he would put in place a government of national unity that represented democratic forces in Peru and that was open to the participation of civil society.

He then left to join his supporters, who were gathering in Peru’s historic Plaza de Dos de Mayo to celebrate Humala’s almost certain victory.

Humala supporters at the Plaza Dos de Mayo Sunday night Source: AFP

As of 10:00 a.m. Monday morning, Keiko Fujimori had yet to emerge publicly to acknowledge her defeat. Sunday evening she gave a very brief speech in which she said she would await the result of Peruvian electoral officials before making any comments on the elections.

Later today: Post-election analysis: What Awaits Peru Under an Humala Administration

6 June 2011 ·

Humala supporters celebrate Humala’s apparent victory in Peru’s presidential elections at the Plaza Dos de Mayo in downtown Lima.     Source: La Republica

5 June 2011 ·

Transparency quick count confirms Humala victory in Peru Presidential Elections

by Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

The elections watchdog group Transparencia released the results of its quick count in today’s presidential elections, confirming the earlier exit poll results giving a victory to Ollanta Humala in today’s presidential elections. According to Transparency, Humala obtained 51.3% of the valid votes, while Keiko Fujimori obtained 48.7%.

Transparencia’s quick count is based on 90 percent of the ballots counted. The margin of error in Transparencia’s count is one percentage point. Official results are expected later this evening.

Transparency noted that 83.77% of registered voters participated in today’s elections. The absenteeism rate of 16.23% is similar to that of the first round, at 16.29.

5 June 2011 ·

Exit Polls Show Humala Victory in Peru Presidential elections

by Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

Polls closed in today’s second-round presidential elections in Peru.

All three exit polls that have been released to date show Ollanta Humala as the winner of today’s elections.

Ipsos Apoyo:                 Ollanta Humala 52.6%                  Keiko Fujimori 47.4%

Datum:                           Ollanta Humala 52.7%                 Keiko Fujimori 47.3%

CPI:                                Ollanta Humala 52.5%                 Keiko Fujimori 47.5%

Exit poll results are traditionally considered unreliable, but the consistentcy of the results by the three polling firms is leading analysts to suggest that Humala will be declared winner in today’s vote.

Transparency’s quick count results, which are considered widely reliable predictors of the final vote, are expected to be released at 6:30 p.m. in Peru.

Analysts suggest that the campaign focusing on human rights violations committed during Alberto Fujimori’s government, and especially the issue of forced sterilizations, was seen as major issue, in the final week of the campaign. During the 1990s, an estimated 200,000 women were sterilized without their consent as part of a government poverty reduction campaign. During a televised interview, Rafael Rey Rey, who ran as vice-presidential candidate on Keiko Fujimori’s ticket, said that, the sterilizations “were not against their will, but without their will.” This splitting of semantic hairs was widely discredited by the opposition media and in the Peruvian blogosphere.

Another factor that may have played a role in Humala’s apparent victory is that his coming on top of the polls in the days just before the final vote may have swayed undecided voters to cast their ballots for him.

The fear-mongering campaigns we reported on in earlier campaigns did not, apparently, achieve their intended effect of convincing a majority of Peruvians that Humala represented a danger to economic and political stability.

Peruvian blogger Marco Sifuentes said this was not a victory to celebrate nor to panic over. He pointed to three key lessons from today’s vote. First, he said, Peruvians do note like being told who to vote for, and they don’t like campaigns based on lies. Second, he said, Lima is not Peru. (Keiko appears to have been victorious in Lima and a couple of other departments in the north, but Humala won in the rural and jungle areas of Peru.) Finally, he noted, the mobilizations against Keiko Fujimori raised awareness, was powerful and effective, even with the media opposition it. But, Sifuente said, “Humala has been warned: he does not have a blank check.”

5 June 2011 ·

Polarized Peruvian Electorate Votes Today for President

By Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

Left-wing candidate Ollanta Humala appears to have a slight edge as Peruvians vote today in the most hotly contested election in the nation’s history.  The final polls taken before today’s vote all show Humala overtaking Keiko Fujimori, who had been leading slightly, by 1 to 4 points, though given the margin of error most polls still show them in a statistical tie.  Humala has captured the vote of those who feel left out of Peru’s economic boon and want programs will go beyond handing out food aid, as Fujimori’s father did, to creating programs to generate jobs and improved quality of life, as Humala has promised to do.  However, the last minute surge in support may be more due to those who have been reluctant to endorse either candidate deciding that Humala is a better option than putting another Fujimori back in the presidential palace.

These elections have all the makings of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.  It was just over ten years ago that Alberto Fujimori fled the country in disgrace after beginning an unconstitutional third term as president that provoked massive popular protest and amidst myriad corruption scandals.  Fujimori and his political allies literally stole billions from the country’s state coffers, institutionalized death squad activity, and subverted Peruvian democracy by taking control over virtually all state institutions.  Yet now his daughter Keiko Fujimori – surrounded by her father’s cronies – is within grasp of becoming president.  For his part, Ollanta Humala has a brother imprisoned for leading a revolt which he encouraged, led his own odd uprising against Fujimori and whose father espouses an ideology based on the racial superiority of Peru’s indigenous peoples.  A significant portion of each candidate’s votes are a negative vote – those who would never vote for the other candidate.

The ways in which these elections have played out illustrate the deep deficiencies that still plague democracy in Peru.  While during Alberto Fujimori’s reign, the Peruvian press was bribed or blackmailed into supporting his government, during this campaign much of the mainstream media – owned by powerful economic elites — has willingly supported the Fujimori campaign, shamelessly presenting campaign propaganda as news.  (Such blatant manipulation of the press may have backfired, however, if the most recent polls turn out to be an accurate indicator of the electoral results. Also sadly reminiscent of the Machiavellian tactics used by Alberto Fujimori, there are well-founded reports that the Peruvian intelligence services have worked in favor of her candidacy. 

The dirty tricks approach escalated as election day approached. In the last couple of days, a number of reports have emerged of a massive, coordinated disinformation campaign designed to discredit Ollanta Humala’s candidacy. IDL-Reporteros reported the creation of a false website, http://ollantaporperu.com on June 2, which seeks to associate Humala with socialism. This morning, the website states: “Peruvian comrades: Peru 2011: All power to the people! Humala President! By reason or by force: Ethnonationalism or death!” These messages seek to evoke an association between Ollanta Humala’s campaign and violent methods as well as the nationalist ideology of his father, which Humala has repeatedly and emphatically renounced.

Additionally, numerous people reported receiving phone calls, tweets, and facebook messages with similarly misleading and manipulative messages about Ollanta Humala. And IDL-Reporteros quoted actress Urpi Gibbons, who said that someone claiming to represent the “Inter-American Center for the Defense of Democracy” called her and said that they were conducting a poll about the elections. After asking who Gibbons was voting for, the caller then said: “I would like to know if you would like to have a president who will scare away foreign investors.” The caller then asked her if she knew that The Washington Post had published a report asserting that investors are pulling out of Peru, followed by the question: “Do you agree that the next government expel foreign investment, declares the United States an enemy, and nationalizes your property just as is currently occurring in Venezuela?” Dozens of other Peruvians denounced receiving similar phone calls. The messages are part of a broader, ongoing fear-mongering campaign that seek to associate Humala with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and assert that Humala will implement radical economic policies that will bring ruin to Peru’s economy.

Particularly disturbing is the extent to which this campaign has brought out the deep-rooted racism that still exists in Peru today and the acts of intolerance shown throughout the campaign. Facebook entries can result in a flurry of angry, foul attacks on the author; tweeting has become mean and nasty; and the name calling is often downright racist.  As journalist Pedro Salinas writes:  “This campaign has unmasked the true nature of a society marked by differences and discrimination. Social media have been inundated with offensive messages and insults that refer to the opponent’s skin color, their supposed ignorance and their uncivilized nature in order to disqualify them as Peruvian.”

Whoever wins today’s elections will inherit a country deeply divided and polarized.  Most immediately, emotions are running high and both candidates must ensure that their supporters do not engage in any form of violence.  In the longer term, these elections should serve as a wake-up call on the need for a serious process of societal reconciliation, the implementation of policies of inclusion rather than exclusion, and the strengthening of democratic values and institutions in Peru.

 

5 June 2011 ·

About Us

WOLA Peru Experts:


* Jo-Marie Burt, WOLA Senior Fellow and Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University. Ms. Burt is the author of Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

* Coletta Youngers, WOLA Senior Fellow. Ms. Youngers has lived in or worked on Peru since 1983 and is the author of Violencia Política y Sociedad Civil en el Perú (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2003).

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