Peru elections: right-wing populism defeated at the polls

  1. Results show crime, corruption and lack of respect for institutions have given law a bad name in society
  2. Ex-army general accused of murder and other allegedly corrupt candidates led mayoral race for months

An unexpected electoral turnaround in the run-up to the Sunday, 7th October mayoral elections prevented populism from taking control of Lima, capital of Peru, while other national regions have chosen representatives of their communities less linked to traditional political parties.

In the three weeks prior to the election, surveys for regional and municipal elections in the Andean country showed a dramatic change in preferences for the provincial mayor of Lima, where three right-wing populist candidates led the intention to vote.

Acción Popular party candidate Jorge Muñoz is in the lead with 32% of votes and is set to be the next mayor of Lima, according to the first official figures published by the National Office of Electoral Process (ONPE). If the data is confirmed, the novel politician will rise with the victory after a campaign marked by citizen disinterest, in a context of corruption allegations of the justice system and the messages of the Trump-like candidates who led the polls until only eight days ago.

At 24% of the count, Muñoz had achieved 47% of votes against 15% of his closest competitor, Daniel Urresti, an ex-military who campaigned on a populist fight against crime and participated under the umbrella of Podemos Perú, a political organization with no proposals that falsified signatures to achieve its electoral registration — in early October, Urresti had been acquitted of the murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos in 1988.

Muñoz staged a surprising comeback from his third place in the polls by 29 September at a rate of “1.5% per day, an unusual figure,” said pollsters Ipsos Peru director Alfredo Torres.

The likely winner said: “We are happy. I have seen that there are several districts where Acción Popular won. It is a triumph after 37 years,” in reference to 1980-1985 last Acción Popular mayor of Lima Eduardo Orrego.

ONPE preliminary figures confirmed that some seven district mayors of Lima could also come from Muñoz’s party. Political scientist and political party specialist Jorge Valladares said that the ‘dragging’ effect of the election-winner party “is a phenomenon that has occurred in Lima since 1989”. Elections in the capital are mandatory under the law and have historically had a participation of 80% — absenteeism is penalised with a fine ranging from $7 to $20.

Peru also voted to elect 25 regional governors. In most jurisdictions, victory went to candidates of small territorial movements without a known political manifesto or even an ideology. One of the surprises was the candidate of the Puno region, Walter Aduviri, who campaigned from the underground for the governor’s seat of the region, which borders with Bolivia. Aduviri led a social protest called “El Aymarazo” in 2011 against the activity of a mining company that, he argued, would damage agriculture and natural resources. He was sentenced to prison but the Supreme Court recently annulled his conviction.

“This sentence” — overturned on the eve of elections due to procedural defects — “allowed him to present himself as a victim of the criminalization of the protest,” said anthropologist Javier Torres. According to decentralization specialist Javier Azpur, “these results show a clear triumph of regional movements over national parties, which is an expression of the representation crisis: a great political fragmentation that will hinder adequate interaction between all levels of national and regional government.”

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