OP-ED – The 2011 Election: Facing a leap back to the bad old days

By Nicholas Asheshov

Special to the Peruvian Times

With the short end of a week before voting on Sunday, April 10,  the first round of Peru’s presidential elections has lurched into a curtain-raiser to a bitter run-off featuring a stark choice between business-as-usual+plus and Chavez-style grab-it statism.

The polls say that Ollanta Humala, representing the specter of a depressing dive into Venezuelan-style shambles is way out ahead against a trio led by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a pragmatic free-marketeer promising a pueblo-friendly lift-off for an already-humming economy.

Under Humala, a far-left rabidly anti-Chilean, airports, ports and telecom, energy, probably banks, newspapers and TV would be nationalized, according to his written manifesto.  LAN, the dominant force in local aviation, would certainly be hobbled if not sent packing.  The same fate might await some of the big foreign investments in energy, mining and retailing.  The half-forgotten sound of international agreements and contracts, not to mention constitutions, being torn up, is back on the air.

Brazilian companies, led by big construction and energy like Odebrecht, Vale do Rio Doce and Petrobras would, on the other hand, be favored.  Humala, like all Peruvians, likes Lula but, more to the point, his PDB party is providing electioneers and finance for the Humala campaign.   Brazilian companies are already trying to pepper the Andes with huge hydro-electric schemes with the power pylons heading for Sao Paulo.

Venezuela and Cuba are the models, “with appropriate local adjustments,” Humala says.

The media in Lima produce and discuss endlessly, as well they might, a flood of polls that after a ho-hum start at the turn of the year, today put Humala, a former army comandante and mutineer to boot, at close to 30 percent with Kuczynski, PPK, a former Wall St banker, and two others, Keiko Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo, bunched together at between 18 percent  and 20 percent.

The elections will see 14 million over-18s of a 30-million population vote for which of two candidates get into the final run-off in early June.  They are also voting on Sunday for a 120-seat Congress, whose membership will be roughly in line with the percentages obtained by the five leading candidates.

Both the Congress and the President are elected for a five-year 2011-16 term starting July 28, Independence Day.  Voting is obligatory.

With Humala, the only left-winger, a sure thing to get into the run-off, Sunday’s race is for the single remaining slot to run against him in June.

Luis Castañeda A fifth contender, Luis Castañeda, a colorless, murky former Lima mayor, is down from 30 percent support in January to below 11 percent.  So the focus is on Toledo, Keiko and PPK.  The hope of, one supposes, two-thirds of the electorate is that one of these will in June pull together the non-left votes to beat Humala into, they hope, oblivion.

The four contenders have emerged after more than three months of campaigning as clear-cut TV characters.

Humala Ollanta Humala, an army mutineer accused of human rights violations, was described on TV by Hugo Chavez in Caracas this past week as “a good lad, a good soldier.”   Caracas has provided much of Humala’s campaign funds according to well-established paper trails through, for instance, NGOs fronted by his wife, Nadine.  He has, naturally, got the Lima and provincial middle class frightened, terrified in fact, that Peru — which has been emerging over the past couple of decades into a coming-along economy with poverty rates finally ticking down — will slough back into the lost decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

Keiko Fujimori The polls say, as they have for the past three months, that Keiko, a self-confident 35-year-old daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, currently doing life in a Lima jail for human rights violations, has a solid 20 percent of the vote.

She, in effect, is the one that Toledo or PPK must beat on Sunday.  She is also going to be the easiest to beat for Humala, as even though she would be joined, reluctantly by PPK and Toledo, she is not yet a convincing presidential figure.

Alejandro Toledo, 65, president 2001-6, only a few weeks ago looked a shoo-in to the final round with close on 30 percent in the polls.   He bills himself as a toughie Andean Indian ex-shoe-shine boy with a Stanford PhD.  Sounds ideal, but his record in office was as a vacillating, hard-drinking womanizer with approval ratings of 8 percent, marking him at the time the least popular elected leader in Latin America. Today he is still lively but a pompous bore on the TV, and this has hauled him back down despite a campaign that is well-financed by a foggy consortium.

Joining these leaders during the past few weeks is Kuczynski, PPK, an Oxford-educated Wall St banker and former Central Bank executive, finance and prime minister, one of whose daughters is a fashion-plate Park Ave socialite and former New York Times staffer.

Kuczynski, 72, is an accomplished flautist with a grand piano in his Lima town house and another at his mountainside country estate on which for relaxation he plays Bach fugues and Mozart sonatas.

Pedro Pablo KuczynskiKuczynski in 2001-2 sorted out the high inflation, low-income mess as the first finance minister in Toledo’s otherwise vacuous government, and has financed his own campaign – he sold a south-Lima beach house and cashed in some stock.  But until a month ago it was looking, at three or four percent in the polls, like just a quixotic swan-song.  Columnists were thanking him for, at least, pepping up a desultory melee.  At that time, too, Humala was also a back-of-the-pack also-ran at 10-12 percent.

But in February they both took off.   PPK drove a “PPKamion” and distributed PPKuy dolls — cute fluffy guinea pigs — to attract a wider audience for his well-thought-out program and hands-on experience to get Peru’s lagging education, health, jobs, pensions and infrastructure adjusted upwards to a pushy 7-8 percent growth economy.

Suddenly PPK shot up to 10 percent, then 14 percent.  Now he’s up in the 17-18 percent league with one poll putting him second behind Humala.

Humala, starting as a cloudy has-been, has more than doubled his early-days polling.  But unlike PPK he is no dark horse.  In 2006, he came within a few points of becoming president of Peru, wearing a red T-shirt and openly fawning on Chavez, then as now the only important re-creation of Latin America’s bad old 1970s and 1980s of muddled stagflation and bully-boy caudillos.

For this election Humala has put on a coat and tie.  He refuses to answer questions about his published Chavez-like program. the familiar, dreaded  paraphernalia of up-the-workers cant.   His brother Ulysses has created a stir by going public with a description of him as a little-Hitler dictator.

Another brother, Antauro, a cashiered army major, has been in jail the last six years  for leading a paramilitary gang in an attack, which Antauro says Ollanta planned, on a provincial police station that killed four unarmed policemen.

In the 1990s, Ollanta led an army mutiny against Fujimori in the mountains of the far south.

His rabid anti-Chilean position connects with a thick top-to-bottom atavistic seam in Peru’s often-moody psyche. This appeals especially to Peru’s grouse-patch millions, and not just out in the sticks:  Humala is as strong in Lima as PPK.

A wider xenophobia, typical of elections everywhere, has slimed its way selectively through the campaign.   Now that he might win, Kuczynski has been attacked ferociously by Toledo and Humala for having a U.S. passport, acquired in 1999 — Kuczynski’s wife Nancy is from Wisconsin — with, therefore, clear conflict-of-interest issues.   PPK replied, variously, that Toledo might have thought of this when he made PPK his Premier in 2005 and that he was relinquishing his U.S. passport anyway.  In a TV debate on Sunday, Toledo, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., and whose acid-tongued wife, Eliane, is a Belgian Zionist, referred to PPK as “Mister Kuczynski” as if they’d never spent hundreds of high-powered hours together running the country.

PPK was born in Lima in 1938, his parents refugees from Hitler.  His mother was a cousin of Jean-Luc Godard, the French cineaste and his father Max was a Berlin-born medic who founded a hospital for lepers in Iquitos and, in effect, eradicated leprosy from Peru.  He was also active in the high country of Cusco and Puno as a doctor. PPK has photos of Dr Max and himself as a kid in the backwoods of Peru in the 1940s.  Max even spent the best part of a year in a Lima jail as a political prisoner under the dictator General Odria, in 1948.  Max sent Pedro Pablo to Rosall, a tough boarding school in northern England, from where he won a scholarship at the age of 17 to Exeter College, Oxford   A few days ago PPK, campaigning in San Cosme, a desperate Lima slum, ran into an old man, a former leper rescued more than half a century ago by Max.  It was, as can be imagined, an emotional moment.

PPK, never a shrinking violet, has developed a relaxed-but-quicksilver, folksy-but-serious TV and campaign-stump style. To his followers he is way and ahead the best potential president that Peru could want.  He fits in today, too, to a current that has seen Ricardo Martinelli in Panama and Sebastian Piñera in Chile, both tip-top business figures, leading lick-things-into-shape governments.

But Humala, too, represents a well-established presence:  Chavez in Caracas, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador, Ortega in Nicaragua, even the Kirchners in Argentina.

ENDS, as usual, we know not where.

Published April 5, 2011, by the Peruvian Times

Nick Asheshov is a Director of The Machu Picchu Train Co., Urubamba.
A veteran journalist, noted explorer and entrepreneur, he was editor of the Peruvian Times from 1969 to 1990.
This report was prepared specially for the Peruvian Times.

One comment on “OP-ED – The 2011 Election: Facing a leap back to the bad old days

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