PERU: PERUVIANS APPROACH RUNOFF ELECTION WITH UNCERTAINTY.
They call him Lazarus because he came back to life the week before Easter in the country's April 8 presidential and congressional elections. Just three months ago, former President Alan Garcia Perez (1985-1990) was politically dead, with polls showing that more than 50% of Peruvians would never vote for him.
Suddenly the possibility looms that Garcia will again occupy the presidential palace thanks to a campaign that convinced at least 25% of the electorate to overlook his disastrous term in office, which was plagued by hyperinflation, shortages of essential consumer items, corruption, and human rights violations.
Garcia, a social democrat of the Partido Aprista Peruano (PAP), faces a runoff election on June 3 against Alejandro Toledo, of the Peru Posible party, who won 36.5% of the vote. Garcia, with 26%, edged out Lourdes Flores Nano of the Unidad Nacional party, who took 24% of the vote.
Taking advantage of his gift for oratory, Garcia was able to excite voters who were initially wary of him. One month before the elections, polls indicated that only 12% of voters would choose him.
"Garcia is a seductive personality with arguments that are both clear and coherent. He has the ability to repeat a few simple ideas that are very well-expressed," psychologist Jorge Bruce said. "He comes off as very serene and doesn't lose his cool. He also has well-known oratorical skills and winds up being an irresistible candidate for many people."
Bruce said these gifts allowed Garcia to present himself as a legitimate candidate and "make people forget, partially, his disastrous former term." He aimed his campaign at young voters who do not remember what happened 10 or 15 years ago.
Garcia returned to Peru in late January to head the Aprista slate after nine years in exile. In 1992, after then President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) dissolved Congress and ordered the reorganization of the judicial branch in a self- coup, Garcia sought asylum in Colombia and later traveled to France. In December, with the help of legislators loyal to Fujimori, a law was overturned that had declared Garcia in contempt of court for failure to face charges of corruption and human rights violations.
Sociologist Julio Cotler said those who voted for Garcia "were undoubtedly people who forgot what his term in office was like or were not old enough to remember."
The Aprista party, founded by Victor Raul Haya de la Torre in the 1920s as the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA), has a long history of coexistence and political alliances with governments and dictatorships that it considered ideological enemies. Thus de la Torre joined forces with the regime of Gen. Manuel Odria (1948-1956) against the first government of Fernando Belaunde (1963-1968), even though Odria had bitterly persecuted APRA and even declared the party illegal.
In 1990, APRA was behind Fujimori's victory against novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, which some analysts believe will move Fujimori loyalists to return the favor by helping elect Garcia.
While the big loser in the elections was the Fujimori legacy--his former economy minister, Carlos Bolona, got only 1.7% of the vote--many of his supporters voted for Flores and might back Garcia against Toledo, Fujimori's nemesis.
Once in power, analysts say, APRA will take over the administration of government, just as it did in 1985, and loyalists will occupy public posts. It is also possible that investigations into charges of corruption during the previous Fujimori government will be dropped, guaranteeing impunity for those accused.
The election outcome is the result not only of Garcia's well-orchestrated campaign, but also of his principal rivals' errors. While Toledo and Flores engaged in political mudslinging, Garcia remained above the fray.
Toledo was accused of lies and immorality and criticized for not submitting to DNA testing to determine whether he fathered a girl who is now 12 who claims to be his daughter. He was also accused of consuming cocaine during an alleged abduction two years ago. Flores, meanwhile, was accused of having in her inner circle people linked to the Fujimori regime and the conservative Catholic movement Opus Dei. And both candidates accused each other of racism.
"Garcia achieved exceptional results because he stayed outside the criticism. Since Toledo and Flores were the front-runners, the public eye and debate were not focused on Garcia," said economist Javier Iguiniz. "Nobody thought Garcia would get to the runoff, so he didn't pose an immediate threat. He was able to advance without anyone looking closely at his term in office."
The results caused some uncertainty, particularly in financial circles. Martin Reano, an economist at Lima's Universidad del Pacifico, told a radio interviewer that a runoff between Toledo and Garcia was "a nightmare for investors. On the one hand you have a candidate [Toledo] making promises he can't fulfill, and on the other [Garcia] who is haunted by his past."
The day after the elections the Lima Stock Exchange suffered it biggest losses of the year, with a 2.43% drop, and Brady bonds--foreign debt holdings that are a gauge of a country's risk factor--lost 1.75% of their value. There was also a slight currency devaluation.
Some economic analysts, however, said the fact that the two top contenders were Toledo, a moderate, and Garcia, a social democrat, showed that people voted against the neoliberal economic model that has been applied during the last 10 years with disastrous results.
Official statistics show that more than 60% of the work force is unemployed or underemployed. Private institutions place the true figure at more than 80%. During the 1990s, more than 1 million Peruvians lost their jobs.
The private institute Cuanto said last year 54.1% of Peru's 25 million inhabitants lived in poverty, with a daily income of US$2 or less, and 14.8% lived in extreme poverty, on US$1 a day or less.
During the presidential campaign, which was characterized by massive rallies in the country's principal cities, all the candidates promised thousands of jobs, lower taxes on basic services, and agricultural loans. Now the finalists must explain how they will achieve this.
Former Guatemalan foreign minister Eduardo Stein, head of the Organization of American States (OAS) observer mission, suggested that Toledo and Garcia hold debates and present their plans publicly, as well as avoid mudslinging.
Skepticism abounds among voters. Faced with uncertainty, some say they prefer "the devil we know" and will vote for Garcia, while others say they will give Toledo the benefit of the doubt.
The prospects for the new government, however, are not encouraging.
"The next administration will have to deal with unrealistic expectations, economic restrictions, and political pandemonium," political analyst Carlos Tapia said. It will be difficult for the next president to make good on his promises amid a deep economic recession and without a majority in Congress (see NotiSur, 2001-04-27).
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|Publication:||NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs|
|Date:||May 4, 2001|
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