March 4, 2021

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PERU: How the presidential candidates stack up

BY Nicholas Watson

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( 6 mins)
  • The electoral field remains highly fragmented less than six weeks from the 11 April first round presidential election.
  • Public apathy remains significant, which partly reflects the generally low caliber of candidates and debate.
  • With up to half a dozen candidates – some of them little known – still in with a chance of reaching a run-off vote, this note examines their profiles and manifesto pledges.

The results of a recent IEP survey carried out in late-February have plenty of overlap with the Ipsos poll conducted in the first half of the month. First and foremost, both polls point to significant public apathy and indecision. Additionally, both polls evidence extreme vote fragmentation, with the lead group of candidates struggling to make it into double digits. Similarly to Ipsos, IEP also suggests George Forsyth is slipping back while Yonhy Lescano’s support is rising. Keiko Fujimori remains in the lead group, as does Veronika Mendoza. However, IEP has Rafael Lopez Aliaga joining the top five, displacing Daniel Urresti. Another commonality between the two polls is Julio Guzman’s decline.

Barring dropouts and/or a breakaway by any candidate (and bear in mind the margin of error of +/- 2.8%), any of the top four could make it to a run-off vote. However, Lescano and Lopez Aliaga’s recent poll rise points to how candidates with the right timing can still surf into contention before 11 April, which means the next rung of candidates, which includes Lopez Aliaga, Urresti, and even Hernando de Soto, cannot be dismissed from contention despite their currently low poll numbers. The possible exclusion from the race of Forsyth and Lopez Aliaga on technical grounds injects further uncertainty into the outlook given that – based on IEP’s survey – their combined votes amount to 15.7%; a decision from the JNE electoral board may come tomorrow, 5 March.

In view of how open the race is, this note provides thumbnail sketches of the main candidates, their polices, and their position on the political spectrum. Their support level in percent as measured by IEP appears after each candidate’s name. The caveat is that manifestos often contain a stock list of promises (job creation, poverty reduction, tackling corruption, and post-pandemic investment in the health system).

Yonhy Lescano (11.3%) is difficult to pin down despite his 18 years in Congress, which could actually be an asset as it may allow him to gain support from across the spectrum as the “least worst” candidate. Some of his economic platform is left-leaning and populist (e.g. constitutional changes to mineral rights), though he also rejects a state-centric economy and has ruled out a wealth tax. Lescano is also socially conservative, not just on social issues like abortion but in other areas too: chemical castration for convicted rapists is one of his signature proposals. Lescano’s distance from his own Popular Action (AP) party’s unpopular congressional bloc is an advantage, as is his capitalization of the party’s grassroots set-up at regional level.

Veronika Mendoza (8.9%) would, were she to win, mark the biggest shift from the political and economic status quo. Her manifesto promises nothing less than the “refoundation” of the state and a shift away from the “neoliberal model” towards a form of economic dirigisme, which she proposes to achieve via a constitutional re-write. More specifically, Mendoza says she would revise Peru’s free trade agreements (FTAs); undertake an agrarian reform; significantly expand public services; and open the door to a revision of mining regulations.

George Forsyth (8.1%) has the most polished manifesto, which belies his limited political experience. In fact, his manifesto promise of macroeconomic stability with a “fiscal balance and monetary prudence” actually makes him among the most conventional of the lead candidates. Given a generalized desire for change among voters, it is therefore something of a paradox that Forsyth has been leading the polls for so long. His strong anti-corruption stance provides some of the explanation, as does a certain can-do reputation he built up as a local mayor. Most significant is his youth and relative freshness, combined with his name recognition and celebrity branding.

Keiko Fujimori (8.1%) is the best known of the leading candidates; this is her third run for president. Fujimori is best summed up as a populist conservative who harks back to the “order and growth” of her father Alberto’s presidency (1990-2000). Whereas in 2016 Fujimori attempted to cast Fujimorismo in a more modern light, this time around she is more reliant than ever on her father’s most loyal supporters, which explains her pitch that, since Fujimorismo led a crisis recovery plan once before, it is best placed to do so again.

Rafael Lopez Aliaga (7.6%) is an ultra-conservative businessman who has been likened to a Peruvian version of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro for his libertarianism and success in exploiting hot-button issues like abortion and the role of gender in the education curriculum. The candidate is also virulently opposed to the leftist regime in Venezuela. The business-friendly Lopez Aliaga is calling for a smaller state, a local “Marshall Plan” to reactivate the economy, and the modernization of the mining sector. He is popular among higher-income sectors in Lima, particularly men, though his ultra-conservative values proposition could appeal to both Fujimori voters and supporters of the millenarian Popular Agricultural Front of Peru (Frepap), which is not running a presidential candidate.

Daniel Urresti (4.8%) has positioned himself as the law-and-order candidate despite – or perhaps capitalizing on – his own legal troubles; his zero-tolerance approach to crime and social conservatism make Fujimori his main rival. This reflects his military background, which was what got him made interior minister (briefly) under Ollanta Humala’s presidency (2011-2016). Although his manifesto presents Urresti as a “disrupter”, most of his proposals are actually quite mainstream.

Hernando de Soto (4.2%) made his international reputation as a free-market thinker and advisor to Fujimori Sr, so it is no surprise that he is offering to facilitate an “investment shock” in part by unlocking blocked mining projects. There is a clear overlap with Fujimori and Lopez Aliaga’s votes.

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