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 ·

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 ·

Will Alberto Fujimori be set free?

By Jo-Marie Burt

On April 7, 2009 former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted for human rights violations in three cases: the Barrios Altos massacre, the forced disappearance of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and Samuel Dyer.

Read More

3 June 2011 ·

Peru Elections Near: A Look at the Candidates

Part II: Ollanta Humala

By Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta A. Youngers

After having come close to winning the Peruvian presidential elections in 2006, Ollanta Humala will once again compete in the final round of voting this Sunday, June 5, to determine who will be Peru’s next president; this time however, the outcome is far less certain than was the case the last time around when he faced Alan Garcia. While Keiko Fujimori maintains a slight lead over Humala, the most recent polls  have the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with less than one percentage point difference between them. If this trend remains unaltered on election day, then quick counts may not be able to discern a clear winner, and official results could be delayed for two weeks or more. This could escalate the existing climate of polarization that is a notable feature of this drawn-out electoral process.

Read More

1 June 2011 ·

Peruvians Organize Massive Anti-Keiko Protest

By Jo-Marie Burt

On Thursday May 26 an estimated 15-20,000 Peruvians participated in a peaceful march to protest the candidacy of Keiko Fujimori. Participants included human rights organizations, victims’ groups, trade unions, student associations, women’s groups, and artist collectives, among others. 

“The people are speaking. They are saying that they do not want the return of the dictatorship,” said Rayda Cóndor, who led the march. Her son Armando Amaro Cóndor was one of the disappeared students from La Cantuta, one of the key cases that contributed to the 2009 conviction of Alberto Fujimori for human rights violations.

The offical press, among them Channel N, which played a crucial role in the downfall of the Fujimori dictatorship in 2000, reported that only 300 people were present at the march.

Photographs from Prensa Alternativa

27 May 2011 ·

Giuliani, Fujimori and me: Nostalgia for the 1990s?

by Jo-Marie Burt

I lived part of the 1990s in Lima during the time of Alberto Fujimori.  I lived the other part of the 1990s in New York when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor.  Now, the mayor whose administration was criticized for being authoritarian and abusive, is advising (in terms of crime policy) the daughter of the former president (and now convicted felon) who was also criticized for being authoritarian and abusive.  How ironic! After absorbing the news of the arrival of Giuliani in Lima and his multi-city tour with Keiko Fujimori in Peru, I decided to write this post.

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23 May 2011 ·

Peruvian election analysis: Why yesterday’s results, and what June 5 may bring

By Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers

Lima (April 11, 2011) – One day after Peru’s elections for president and congress, all indications are that Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori will compete in the June 5 run-off.  The question on many people’s minds is why these two candidates made it into the second round, given that they had the highest negative ratings of the leading candidates. Polls prior to Sunday’s election revealed that over 50% of the population said that they would never vote for either candidate. As we’ve noted in previous posts, in Humala’s case, one key factor is that he was the only candidate to offer an alternative to the existing economic model, in a country where a significant portion of the population has not benefited from years of steady economic growth. 

Read More

11 April 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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