MS Risk Blog

Peru Presidential Elections

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Peru’s transformation has just started.

Last month’s Peruvian election was hotly contested, but the result was clear. Pedro Castillo, a Catholic rural teacher from Cajamarca in Peru’s far north, narrowly defeated his far-right opponent Keiko Fujimori by 42,000 votes. Nonetheless, the losing candidate, the daughter of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, has accused the election of fraud and has filed a judicial challenge to overturn the outcome. Indeed, Fujimori’s political opponents are not used to such losses. After all, this is a nation that has historically been seen as part of the United States’ backyard. Since General Juan Velasco Alvarado’s military dictatorship in the late 1960s and early 1970s, no progressive, left-wing, or left-nationalist government has held power. The outcome on June 6 signalled a significant departure from this conservative heritage. Argentina’s, Bolivia’s, Nicaragua’s, and Venezuela’s presidents have all congratulated Castillo on his election as president-elect. However, even weeks after the election, the Fujimori camp seems eager to take power, perhaps via a procedure similar to Bolivia’s November 2019 coup against Evo Morales.

Soon after the results were published by the country’s official electoral body, the National Jury of Elections (JNE), Fujimori condemned the elections as “fraudulent” and launched a legal fight to shift the tide in her favour. She has sought the annulment of over two hundred thousand votes cast in rural areas, asked for an “international audit,” filed nearly a dozen requests for the election itself to be annulled, and even claimed that her defeat was the result of a worldwide “leftist” plot. Simultaneously, a letter signed by several retired and former military figures calling for “military intervention” to prevent Castillo from forming a government began to circulate on private and social media. Since the first week after the election, a tremendous sense of tension and polarisation has engulfed the country, as Castillo supporters began organising marches to prevent Fujimori from attempting to steal the result, and Fujimori supporters rallied against what they perceived as a fraudulent election and the imminent arrival of “communism” with Castillo’s victory.

Fujimori supporters attacked several members of the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE). Other members of the legal system, such as the head of the anti-corruption prosecutor, José Domingo Pérez, have been subjected to physical assaults and death threats. Pro-Fujimori groups have also attacked peasant and indigenous activists rallying outside the JNE headquarters. Many international commentators have compared Fujimori’s strategy to Trump’s reaction to the 2020 election results and subsequent attempts to overturn the results.

However, almost a month after the election, Fujimori’s legal alternatives have significantly reduced. Almost all observer missions, from the United States to the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the European Union, have declared the election free, fair, and transparent. The most notable instance included the resignation of one of the JNE’s judges, Luis Arce Córdova, in response to what he said was a “lack of openness” inside the judicial organisation. Because the JNE needs a complete quorum of four judges to make a final judgement on election results, his departure was seen as an effort to further delay the process and open the door to a repeat election. If no president is recognised by July 28, a new temporary president chosen by Congress must arrange a fresh election.

Latin America was engulfed in social unrest before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now a string of elections that continues into 2022, protests in Colombia and upheaval over Chile’s constitution have investors bracing for a new wave of uncertainty over policy making. On top of that, the coronavirus is still ravaging the region, with Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Chile recording far more confirmed cases per million people than India.

Faced with the obvious election result, many right-wing and centrist opposition leaders have either distanced themselves from the pro-coup narrative, denounced Fujimori for her actions, or even met with Castillo to explore the prospect of building alliances in Congress. The right-wing National Victory (NV) party’s George Forsyth denounced the JNE issue as an attempted “coup” by Fujimori, while the Purple Party of current temporary president Francisco Sagasti acknowledged Pedro Castillo as president-elect. Because there has been no agreement between the country’s right-wing and liberal political forces, Pedro Castillo has had both time and space to continue organising mass rallies against the slow-motion coup, while also meeting with local and regional authorities across the country in preparation for assuming the presidency.  Many past and present progressive heads of state in Latin America, including Alberto Fernández of Argentina, Luis Arce of Bolivia, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Fernando Lugo, Lula da Silva, and others, have acknowledged his triumph on the world arena.

However, Fujimori’s inability to prevent Castillo from becoming the president does not imply the threat has gone. He will have to deal with a hostile, but mainly unpopular, legislature, in which his Free Peru party presently has just 37 of the 130 seats. The Left’s total legislative authority is slightly under one-third of Congress, thanks to the five seats held by friends from the “Together for Peru” alliance.

Fujimori’s Popular Force party presently has twenty-four seats, the Alliance for Progress has fifteen, Aliaga’s Popular Renewal has thirteen, and Podemos Per has five, bringing the far right and conservative bloc to a total of fifty-seven seats, which is close to half of the total. Popular Action, We Are Peru, Avanza Paz, and the Purple Party were among the centrist-neoliberal parties that won thirty-one seats. Castillo’s ambitions to transform Peru are likewise under danger. The dogmas of the US-based “School of the Americas” continue to dominate Peruvian military and police, while private media have spent three months attempting to vilify and delegitimise the Left in every manner possible. The Lima-based business elite, as well as constant pressure from the US, are also opposed to antagonism. The fight for Peru had only just started, and it was up to all anti-imperialists across the globe to protect the country’s first left-wing administration in decades.