The first-ever woman mayor of the Peruvian capital has won a ‘recall referendum’ over her record since coming to office in 2011 by a clear if narrow majority.
According to the Peruvian electoral authorities, approximately 51.5% of voters rejected the proposal to recall her, compared to 48.5% in favour.
The referendum was called after opposition figures gathered more than 400,000 signatures from Lima residents, triggering the vote on Sunday 17th March 2013.
After coming to office at the start of 2011, Mayor Villarán embarked on an ambitious programme that concentrated on trying to sort out the chaos in Lima’s transport system, to improve citizen security, and to improve the environment in the Peruvian capital, which has almost nine million inhabitants.
Mayor Villarán, a centre-leftist who won the mayoralty by a slender margin, has always maintained that this use of the referendum was an abuse of the democratic process.
She said: ‘This was not a battle that I sought, but from the first day of my government, there has been a pact between the different mafias to get rid of me.’
The possibility of recall referendums was included in the new Constitution brought in under President Fujimori in 2004, in an attempt to control rampant official corruption.
The proponents of the recall argued that her administration has been corrupt and inefficient, but in the weeks before the referendum doubts were cast about the transparency of the funding of the campaign against the mayor.
It was also claimed that one of her main opponents, the former mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda, was seeking to unseat her because of fears he might be tried for misuse of funds during his period in office from 2003-2010.
Part of the mayor’s success was due to the fact that over the past few months she had come out and shown time and again that projects initiated during her time in office have been implemented in this city of some nine million inhabitants.
These have included inaugurating the metro bus system, improvements to wholesale markets, improving the chaotic bus and taxi situation, and ‘greening’ the coastline of Lima or bringing staircases to isolated neighbourhoods to enable people living there to get about more easily.
Speaking in the wake of her victory, Susana Villarán said she ‘could see it in the eyes of the people she met’ that she would win the recall vote, particularly in the poorer districts of the capital.
Her success was also due to the increasing inability of the coalition of her opponents to bring any concrete proof of their accusations. The fact that Alan García, the leader of the APRA movement and one of the most divisive figures in Peruvian politics, came out against Ms. Villarán also increased her support.
For her part, the mayor succeeded in gathering support from a wide range of left and centre parties and prominent individuals. These included the president, Ollanta Humala, to the person she defeated in the mayoral contest in 2011, Lourdes Flores, as well as well-known figures such as the Nobel prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa.
However, this success does not mean that Mayor Villarán can now enjoy the remaining two years of her mandate without continuing strident opposition.
This was shown almost immediately after the result became clear, when she declared she would like a few days ‘ rest’. Her opponents at once accused her of dereliction of duty.
As the respected Peruvian commentator Mirko Lauer has written: ‘she will now face a guerrilla campaign that will last until the very end of her period in office’.
This constant battle probably means that Ms. Villarán will not seek re-election in 2014, although she has said that there needs to be continuity in the government of Peru’s capital for real change to be achieved.
However, as she said on hearing of her successful defence of her tenure in office: ‘It’s Lima that has won. Lima can never stop. Tomorrow, your mayor will go on working and handing over public works for all of you.’