By Javier Farje, LAB
When former president Alejandro Toledo left office in 2006, he had the doubtful privilege of being one of the most unpopular heads of state in Peru’s recent history. Five years later, there has been a remarkable change: in the current campaign for the next elections, to take place in April, he is ahead in the opinions polls.
This is not, however, the only surprise. Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, a convicted criminal serving several jail sentences for corruption and violations of human rights, is third in the opinion polls, not far behind Luis Castañeda Lossio, a former mayor of Lima.
This will not be the first time Toledo will confront a Fujimori in a presidential election. In 2000, the Stanford-educated economist stood against the then incumbent Alberto Fujimori, who had manipulated the constitution to stand for a third period. Toledo lost in the runoff, in a fraudulent process that saw Fujimori take office again. He didn’t last in power. In November that year, he fled to Japan and resigned the presidency. Congress did not accept this resignation and sacked him. Videos showing his intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos (also in jail serving a long sentence) bribing politicians and media moguls revealed the levels of corruption that had been partly responsible for Fujimori’s downfall.
Fujimori, who enjoyed protection from Japan, was finally arrested in Chile in 2007 and in September that year, he was extradited to Peru, where he faced trial and now languishes in a high security prison in Peru.
However, Fujimori still has support in Peru. In the 2006 general elections, his daughter, Keiko, today’s presidential candidate,was elected to congress, winning the highest number of votes in the capital, Lima. She insists that her father is innocent. As far as many people in Peru are concerned, he defeated the terrorism of the Shining Path and stabilised the economy. And Keiko is trying to take advantage of this support to be elected.
In the meantime, Toledo, who was criticised for his excessive faith in market economics, has mellowed and insists that he will make combating poverty his priority. Long gone are the days when he denounced as populist calls for a “social project”. However, he is still given credit for keeping the fiscal deficit low, for improving the trade balance and for supporting the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the abuses committed by the security forces in the dark days of the brutal armed struggle led by Shining Path.
In fourth place in the opinion polls, nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala, the man who disputed the presidency with the outgoing president Alan García five years ago, has also moderated his political stand. Once seen as a protégé of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Humala has abandoned part of his jingoistic rhetoric for a more balanced analysis. There was a time when his father, a far-right lawyer, proposed to execute homosexuals, with Humala himself proposing the restoration of the death penalty for acts of treason and corruption. It was this kind of politics that put off many Peruvians, who instead voted for Alan García, the leader of the APRA party, despite his disastrous administration (1985-1990), when hyperinflation rocketed and political violence increased.
In any case, García has not been able to prevent a major crisis in his party, to such an extent that, for the first time in its history, it will not have a presidential candidate in free elections. The internal crisis provoked the resignation of Mercedes Aráoz, a former Economy Minister, who had been controversially chosen as APRA’s candidate. Many historic leaders opposed her candidature because they wanted a party member and Araoz is an independent, and even Alan García himself showed little enthusiasm for her candidature. The party will only have congressional candidates.
If none of the candidates obtains 50%+1 of the votes cast, there will have to be a runoff. Many Peruvians fear that this could benefit Keiko Fujimori. In a poll commissioned by RPP, the biggest radio network in Peru, 48.3% of Peruvians believe Fujimori would make it to the second round.
In this context, the vote of the APRA followers could be crucial. Outgoing President García has not hidden his preference for Castañeda (pictured left) and, although he cannot not express his sympathies openly (as this would violate the electoral law), the leaders of his party can instruct their members to support the former mayor of Lima. This would keep Fujimori in third place and would improve Toledo’s chances of winning in the runoff, because Peruvian electors tend to make their choices freely in second rounds.
The votes of those parties without a chance to win can also be vital. Fuerza Social, the left-of-centre party of the current major of Lima Susana Villarán, could help Toledo. Villarán was elected against all odds to run the Peruvian capital, the first woman ever to be chosen for the post. Although the party’s candidate languishes in the opinion polls, she could mobilise voters in Lima to help Toledo.
A meeting between Toledo and Villarán, while she was waiting the results of the mayoral elections in December last year, did not produce an agreement but it is symptomatic that the former president chose to see her and not other political leaders.
In any case, it is still early days.
Castañeda Lossio stood as a presidential candidate in 2000 and did not get more that 3% of the votes, but he was elected mayor of Lima two years later. He was re-elected in 2006. However, no former mayor of Lima who has stood for president later has ever made it across the road from the Municipal Palace to the Presidential Palace. His party, Solidaridad Nacional (National Solidarity) lacks the level of mass mobilisation that Fujimori’s party, Fuerza 2011 (Force 2011) has. In this case, the votes of the APRA party could be crucial.
Toledo, whose Belgian wife, Elian Karp, was a controversial figure during his first administration, is hoping to capitalise on his new socially-aware image, and, unlike on that occasion, he is not campaigning with her. He hopes to get the votes of those who do not have a left-wing alternative to vote for, without alienating the private sector, which supported his market-orientated policies during his presidency. And he can always remind Peruvians how a Fujimori in power would a disaster. There is no Shining Path threatening the stability of the country this time, but corruption is still rampant and the videos of Montesinos handing over packets of dollars to corrupted politicians and broadcasters can be a very persuasive image for persuading voters not to repeat past mistakes.
Whatever happens, it is clear that once again, Peruvians will have to choose for the lesser evil rather than for the best candidate.