Disaster in Peru

I try to avoid too much explicit editorialising when reporting election results, but “disaster” is the only word for the first round of Peru’s presidential election, held on Sunday (see my preview here).

Part of the problem, as we often find, is with the electoral system, although in this case it’s a very common system choosing a single official over two rounds and one that isn’t easy to replace. But it’s by no means clear that a different system, such as preferential voting, would have produced a different result.

The upshot is that in the second round, to be held on 6 June, Peruvians will be forced to choose between the two extremes of their political spectrum. With 90.8% of the vote counted, the top two candidates are Pedro Castillo, of the far-left Free Peru, with 19.0%, and Keiko Fujimori, of the far right Popular Force, who has 13.3%.

Fujimori leads Hernando de Soto, a free-market economist, by 1.5% or about 200,000 votes: close, but too much for him to overtake her with what’s left to be counted. Another six candidates have more than five per cent of the vote; fourth place went to another extremist, the Trumpist Rafael López Aliaga, who is fractionally behind de Soto, also with 11.8%.

This is an extraordinarily bad result for the pundits and pollsters. Only in the last couple of weeks did Castillo make an impact in the polls; the BBC did not even bother to mention him in its preview at the weekend, and Wikipedia listed him last among twelve serious candidates. Fujimori was thought to be a chance to make the runoff, but if so she was expected to face de Soto or the more progressive leftist Verónika Mendoza, who could only manage 7.8% and sixth place.

But much more importantly, it’s a dreadful result for the people of Peru. Castillo’s party (its founder and nominal leader, Vladimir Cerrón, is in jail for corruption) is typical of the Latin American far left, anti-capitalist but without any countervailing liberalism. Fujimori, on the other hand, is the daughter of a previous dictator who makes no effort to hide her own authoritarianism.

Neither will have anything close to a majority in congress, where nine parties are currently above the 5% threshold (Free Peru leading with 16.7%). But that’s little consolation, since it merely increases the likelihood that whoever wins will tear up the constitution and rewrite the rules to obtain a tame legislature, or just govern without one.

If this was Europe I would say that the far right is the greater threat to democracy and recommend rallying behind the leftist. In Latin America, going by the experience of the last decade or so, that’s much less clear; it’s quite likely that Peru’s chances, bad as they look either way, will be better with Fujimori. Her father at least did a reasonable job with the economy and defeated a terrorist insurgency, although he was also deeply corrupt and his human rights record was appalling.

Lest you should think that the region was all in the thrall of extremism, however, neighboring Ecuador on Sunday gave the opposite message. In the second round of its presidential election, centre-right candidate Guillermo Lasso was victorious at his third attempt, beating the left’s Andrés Arauz 52.4% to 47.6%. Arauz promptly conceded defeat and said it was time to “move on, build bridges and create consensus.”

Maybe one of the Peruvian candidates will surprise us and also turn out to be a consensus builder. But the prospects don’t look good.

UPDATE 8pm Tuesday (Peru time): Now with 95.2% counted, the top two have extended their lead slightly; Castillo has 19.1% and Fujimori 13.4%. There’s a fascinating but quite irrelevant contest for third place: Trumpist Rafael López Aliaga now leads free-marketeer Hernando de Soto by less than 3,000 votes (both on 11.6%). Centre-leftist Yonhy Lescano has 9.1% and the somewhat further left Verónika Mendoza is on 7.8%.

Looking at the whole field and making some admittedly fairly arbitrary classifications, I got a total of 58% for the right as against 42% for the left, which suggests that Fujimori starts in a somewhat stronger position for the runoff, despite Castillo’s plurality. But a lot could happen in two months.


7 thoughts on “Disaster in Peru

  1. Peru is also home of the Shining Path, contenders with the Khmer Rouge for most insane far-left cult on the planet (thankfully with less power), who make Die Linke or Podemos look bourgeois-respectable by comparison.
    Maybe runoffs would work better without compulsory top-two? Let any candidate advance to the runoff if he or she (a) is one of the two highest not voluntarily withdrawing, or (b) polled over (say) 15% on the first round, or both.
    True, this could mean a Weimar-like result where the second round winner claims victory with less than 50% of the votes, but that might be better than a nominally 50% or higher margin that is obtained only because the other candidate is an extremist (eg, France 2002) who slipped through on a split vote. A fortiori if both the final-shortlist candidates are extremists.
    Put another way, better a “first-past-the-post” result on the second ballot (highest candidate wins, even without having 50%), after the voters have deliberated and have more information available to vote tactically, than a “first-past-the-post” result on the first ballot (two highest candidates advance to runoff, even without having 66.67% between them), where the electors are voting “blind” without any hard data on candidates’ support levels beyond (partial, in both senses, and possibly-gamed) opinion polls.


    1. Indeed. Castillo denies being affiliated with the Shining Path, altho his sister is apparently a member of its political wing.
      The French do some of those sort of variations on the two-round model – not for president, but (in different ways) in local, regional & parliamentary elections. Whether it would make a difference in somewhere like Peru is hard to say.


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