monday, june 05, 2006

Peruvian Presidential Election

In a turn of events few would have confidently predicted six months ago, former Peruvian President Alan Garcia won Sunday's runoff election and will become Peru's next president on July 28.

At approximately 10 p.m. Sunday night, dark horse candidate Ollanta Humala conceded the election. Although only just more than 77 percent of the votes had been tallied by that point, it was clear that Garcia's lead was insurmountable. As of 11:32 p.m. just less than 84 percent of the more than 16 million votes had been tallied. Garcia held 54.7 percent versus Humala's 45.3 percent.

But the margin of victory is expected to narrow as the remaining votes - mostly from rural areas that strongly back Humala's nationalist platform - are counted. And Humala's brief concession speech alluded to the fact he intends to continue his nationalist platform.

"We have obtained a great social majority and today we renewed in our commitment of work and service to the country, to defend the nation and the natural resources," he said.

That struggle will probably be centered on Peru's 120-member unicameral congress where Humala's party won the largest voting bloc in the elections on April 9. It has 45 seats, while Garcia's APRA party holds 36. It marks a sharp contrast to 1985 when Garcia took up the presidential sash with a comfortable majority in Congress allowing him relatively free reign to move forward with his heterodox economic policy.

Another concern is that Humala's supporters will take up a social struggle. Bolivia's Evo Morales lost several races for office in recent years but remained a political force due to his ability to mobilize large groups of the population in protests that paralyzed the state and shook the ability of the elected government to rule. It is a real concern in Peru that Humala (whose brother Antauro is currently in jail for a failed uprising in Jan. 2005) might choose such a course of action.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the race from the international perspective was the much anticipated "Chavez factor." Venezuela's irrepressible leftist leader, Hugo Chavez, was very much a force in the election, unabashedly supporting Humala and blasting both the current administration of Alejandro Toledo as well as Garcia's campaign.

It was a boon for Garcia who immediately blasted Chavez for meddling with Peru's national sovereignty and depicted Humala as an aspiring despot who ape the Venezuelan leader's populist economics. It worked in Peru where the desire for radical change seems to have been surpassed by the mix of concern about economic instability that nationalist economics have wrought in the past (ironically, during Garcia's first tenure as President) and an indignation of any type of foreign interference in their affairs

"The only one who was defeated today is Hugo Chavez," Garcia commented on Sunday.

The cost is a possible rupturing of relations between Venezuela and Peru that, in recent weeks, both Chavez and Garcia have promised would take place if Humala was to be defeated. That could be problematic for the country as more Andean nations align themselves with Chavez's agenda.

The question now is "what happens next?" Many observers both inside Peru as well as beyond its borders have depicted the runoff election as a choice between the lesser of two evils. With the outcome decided, there is an uncertainty of where the evil that was chosen will end up taking the country over the next five years.

Garcia is a puzzle. The former president has gone out of his way to assure observers he is a changed man and he has learned from his mistakes and he won't repeat them. Perhaps so. A few commenters have noted that his pride might be the thing to keep him in check - that he has no desire to go down in history attached soley with the tainted legacy of his previous Presidency.

The election will sooth investors - both in Peru and abroad - for the time being but, when Garcia takes office, there will be a heightened anxiety concerning his economic policy due to his dismal track record.

And the road promises to be rocky. Although Garcia won the majority of the votes in the runoff, that certainly does not mean he represents the majority of Peruvians. Alejandro Toledo swept into office in 2001 with 53 percent of the runoff vote and a groundswell of goodwill. Within months his approval rating had plummeted and stayed at rock bottom. Although he oversaw one of the most extensive periods of economic growth in Peru's history, his approval ratings remained the worst for any president in the Western Hemisphere for most of his tenure.

So, it is probably more illuminating to look at the general election figures where he drew about a quarter of the vote - almost the exact amount he collected in 2001 - as a barometer of his support. With the feeling of discontent represented by Humala's sudden popularity as well as the lack of a majority in congress, Garcia has a tough road ahead of him. But, at the very least, he knows this route from hard experience.

posted by kleph @ 7:36 am |

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