Peru and Mexico

Two big elections on Sunday in Latin America.

Peru

Peru held the first round of its presidential election back in April. In a crowded field, nine candidates scored more than five per cent of the vote; less than eight points separated second and ninth. But the two who went forward into the runoff came from the extreme ends of the spectrum: Pedro Castillo on the far left, who had 18.9%, and Keiko Fujimori on the far right, with 13.4%.

So on Sunday, Peruvian voters have to choose between them. It’s an unenviable choice. Both represent movements that are hostile to democracy, and Peru, already reeling from perhaps the world’s highest Covid-19 death rate, faces a dangerous future either way.

Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who lost to Fujimori’s father in the 1990 election and has been a vociferous critic of both father and daughter, has nonetheless endorsed Fujimori, saying that she represents the lesser evil and that her rule would at least present “more possibilities of saving our democracy.” For what it’s worth I suspect that he is right.

Polls show the two running almost neck and neck, with perhaps a slight lead for Castillo. Peru has a history of close elections; the last four have all been won with less than 54%, and the last one, in 2016, came down to just 41,000 votes, when Pedro Kuczynski (who later resigned under threat of impeachment) beat Fujimori with 50.1% in the second round.

Mexico

Mexico’s election is not quite so discouraging. Voters will go to the polls to elect a new Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the legislature. There are 500 seats, 200 chosen by nationwide proportional representation and 300 by first-past-the-post in single-member districts.

The previous legislature was elected at the 2018 general election. Left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the presidency in a landslide – his term has another three years to run – and also won a substantial majority in the legislature. With 43.6% of the vote, his coalition took 218 of the single-member seats and 88 of the proportional seats, a total of 306. (It also won, more narrowly, a majority in the Senate, which like the presidency is not up for re-election until 2024.)

In office, López Obrador has proved to be autocratic rather than progressive. His government’s response to the pandemic has been sluggish, and the Mexican economy was already in some trouble. His opponents accuse him of systematically undermining the checks and balances in the Mexican system; it’s probably no coincidence that he also developed a surprisingly good relationship with Donald Trump.

In the face of this threat, López Obrador’s opponents have formed an unprecedented alliance to try to win control of the House of Representatives. The opposition coalition, “Go for Mexico”, includes all three of what until 2018 were the country’s major parties: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI; nominally centre-left), the National Action Party (PAN; centre-right), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD; once hard left – it’s where López Obrador started out – but now more social democrat).

Against this alliance is the president’s coalition, called “Together we make history”. It consists of his own party, MORENA, plus the left-wing Labor Party, the Greens, who in Mexico are a conservative force, and the Solidary Encounter Party, a right-wing Christian group. There is also another leftish party, the Citizens’ Movement, which is opposed to the government but not part of the opposition’s coalition.

Clearly neither side is primarily driven by ideology: it’s a matter of being for or against López Obrador. The polls suggest a close race, although results vary considerably. (Elections in Mexico are a dangerous business, which probably translates into less reliable polling.) Either way, though, the president is unlikely to have the solid backing in the legislature that he’s enjoyed for the first half of his term.

Whether that will clip his wings at all, and how it will affect the contest to succeed him in 2024 (presidents can only serve one term), remains to be seen.

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