Someone recently asked me about the current state of Peruvian politics with a Presidential election run-off coming up in about 7 weeks. It made me think hard about what not only lies ahead but also how the past — both distant and recent — can tell us about Peru now.
Obviously the recent election made some things very, very clear. The huge numbers of voters who didn’t show up or left their ballots blank because of distrust of politicians in general (and especially many of the 2021 candidates) based on decades of Presidential corruption pushed the election to a pair of candidates that no one thought had a chance.
A virtual unknown, left wing Pedro Castillo, shocked the nation with 18.4% of the vote with the right wing Keiko Fujimori garnering 13.4%. Because of the Peru’s election laws, only those two move on to the run-off election on June 6. That means 68.2% of the country preferred other candidates that either of these two!
I’ve read a lot of foreigners including expat residents who make such a big deal out of the large number of people who voted for what many consider a far-left socialist
One person went as far to claim that Peru was experiencing a “leftist shift” based on “driven by the economic effects of the global pandemic that has ravaged the country.” I pointed out that obvious fact that 81% of the electorate didn’t vote for him.
Again, this superficial and lacking analysis neglected what millions of Peruvians have been saying loudly, but you have to listen to them. While there is a legitimate concern by many that the government has neglected the poorest citizens and, at the very least, not been able to adequately provide for them during the COVID crisis, this was the passionate populace that voted for Castillo.
Keiko Fujimori is known as a strong conservative right-wing politician with a number of past and current legal issues that have her currently under investigation after her arrest in 2018 for money laundering charges.
Her father, Alberto Fujimori, remains a polarizing figure who currently is in prison upon conviction for embezzlement and bribery charges. As President of Peru during the 1990’s, his strong handed approach to dealing with domestic terrorism from the Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) Maoists and the return of economic stability to the country allowed many to overlook credible claims of civil rights abuses under his leadership that still have not been forgotten by many. Keiko (the single name she goes by) has said that, if elected, she will pardon her father.
My intention in this post is not to get into the details of the policy proposals of each. (Maybe that will come at a later time.) What I do wish to make clear is that Peru is not heading down a path quite as devastating as many expats who don’t spend much time with Peruvians really understand.
I find an awful lot of expats living in Peru like to say they understand the country and that they spend a lot of time with Peruvians when the truth is they go to their comfort zone and spend much of the time with other expats. Very, very few have conversations about deep political topics and even fewer have even a basic understand of how the Peruvian political and governmental system operates.
It’s understandable that many expats come to Peru with far deeper concerns than Peruvian politics because, for several decades now, Peru has been a relatively stable country with a stable economy that welcomes foreigners. Despite the consistent Presidential corruption issues in all this time, Peru continues to move along with a centrist stability that is the envy of most of Latin America.
(Many expats made their complete lack of understanding of the country in which they live by their comments during the last 13 months of the pandemic. For example, comments about how the country’s economy has been devastated because of the effects of tourism ignore the fact that tourism represents less than 4% of the country’s GDP and every single economic analysis — both domestic and international — has shown the relative strength of Peru’s economy during the crisis.)
Many expat observers base their perceptions on Peruvian politics based on articles written in English by foreign observers rather than consistent and daily participation in the political discourse that is a popular activity in Peru just as it is all over the world. This is not meant to be a criticism. It’s normal to be accepting of things that don’t affect your day-to-day life in a foreign country because Peruvian politics tends to be relatively invisible to expats. Things don’t always work as we’re used to, but we accept that they generally do work…eventually.
One thing the doomsday naysayers on social media seem to overlook is that both candidates are already moderating their campaigns to fit the reality of the country. And that is because Peru is a slightly-to-the-right centrist country that leans to the right in some areas and to the left in others. Radical swings in either direction are not going to be popular with the 68% of the electorate who didn’t support either candidate in Round 1.
Another surprisingly misunderstanding of Peruvian politics that I’ve seen expressed on social media is the “history” of Peruvian politics. I’ve seen warnings about both far-left and far right politics from the 1980s and 1990s depending on what the commentator wants to focus on, most likely, based on the writer’s personal bias.
Things have changed a lot just in the past 20 years that is ignored by so many. Peru’s electorate is much younger and more active than perhaps ever before. That was made clear last November during the 5-day Presidency of Manuel Merino when massive popular protests sprang up all across the country in response to what was perceived as an illegitimate coup.
While the immediate result of the protests was Merino’s resignation, the far greater result was an awakening of Peru’s young people to just how much power they actually have.
Peru’s populace is far, far different than it was in the 1990’s when Alberto Fujimori could act harshly against terrorists and be supported by a large percentage of the people despite embezzlement and bribery convictions. Peru itself is a much different country and, like most democratic countries around the world, there is a challenge to understand to dynamics of these changes by traditional leadership.
What is the root cause of these changes? Communication.
People no longer get their information from newspapers. They no longer must wait for the morning paper to come out to see what is happening both in their country, but anywhere in the world they wish to view. Information is virtually immediate and Peruvians have no desire to either become another Venezuela as many anti-Castillo claim will happen. They also do not wish for their country to continue to be led by corrupt politicians which many view — including public prosecutors — as being exemplified by Keiko Fujimori.
Unfortunately, the growing pains of modern Peruvian democracy has resulted in one of two particularly unpopular candidates becoming President without the support of 2/3 of the population. (I would not be surprised at all if the Constitution was changed so that this does not occur in the future.)
I honestly believe that neither candidate will produce the radical changes that are causing so much fear among expats. (I’ve read comments about being prepared for seismic changes in Peru in which expats should flee!)
Anyone looking at Peruvian politics must consider the powerful role that traditions of the police and military play during times of unrest. Peru has a long tradition of protest. People in the US think protests are common, but they should come to Peru where even during the pandemic, protests are extremely common and an accepted part of discourse.
Protests rarely become violent to any large extent because of the general mutual respect of protesters and the police about the right to protest in the country. The police and military are, by nature, conservative and dislike radicalism of any type because of the instability it would bring. They showed last November where their support lies and I don’t see that changing.
What will the next President and his/her cabinet bring? Expect a focus on education and health care. The last 13 months have made glaring deficiencies in both of these areas clear. Hopefully the new government will continue to improve on improvements in health care as begun during the Vizcarra administration with a new focus on availability of quality care for all Peruvians.
Certainly a Castillo administration will put a focus on education. His background as a teacher outside of Lima gives him a unique perspective on the needs of many students who have been traditionally been neglected in the past.
A Keiko administration would see a shift towards great law enforcement, but it’s not clear if this is just pandering to a segment of the Lima population which tends to blame Venezuelans for everything. (There are always those who likes to find a marginalized group on which they can place blame for everything instead of looking for real solutions.)
Okay, I’ve rambled on enough. I hope this made sense. While I’m no expert, I have spent a lot of time reading hundreds of news articles on Peruvian politics and engaging with Peruvians from all over the country and from all political persuasions. I think that give me a little better grasp on what’s happening, but there’s an awful lot I need to learn.
There are a lot of facets of this election that I really didn’t touch on and may in a future post. I really don’t think the pandemic has much influence on the election except for how it has turned the expat spotlight on inadequacies in health care, education, and poverty. For many Peruvians, those have always been very much in the forefront of the their considerations in every election.
I’ll probably allow any comments below unless they are just plain crazy. It’s my blog, so I get to decide what’s crazy, but I encourage you to share your thoughts and educate me on where I’m wrong or other perspectives I need to consider.