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.

Op-Ed: Observations on the Election Results

“The coming years will for sure compound this as the voting tsunami lines the pockets of a few, but salts the wells of families all over Peru.”

By Nicholas Asheshov

Here are some immediate technical observations on the knife-edge victory of Ollanta Humala.

  • Keiko Fujimori’s people fatally misjudged the final two or three weeks of an inordinately long campaign. The polls show well enough that if the election had been in mid-May, Keiko would have been first past the post. Keiko’s kitchen cabinet, led by Jaime Yoshiyama, a first-class minister in her fathers first administration (1990-92), were so self-confident that they refused to broaden out and form a coalition. They thought they could go it alone.As President Garcia told associates: “They’re close, much too close,” — son muy cerrados. Once Keiko had got into the second slot of a two-person contest, she should immediately have formed a governing coalition pulling together the all-over the-shop center-right, led by PPK. In the first-round campaign Keiko had said repeatedly that she would form alliances once into Round Two. She did not do so, and lost the election because of it.
  • No question but that the heavy-metal support of Mario Vargas Llosa and other big names, including Toledo, persuaded the hundreds of thousands of doubters that Ollanta Humala is, after all a decent middle-of-the-road fellow who just wants a better deal for the poor.Over the past two or three weeks the TV and leading newspapers have published accusations and prima facie evidence that Humala should be investigated for witness-tampering on his own human-rights violations, gross breaches of the electoral finance regulations, foreign financing (Venezuela) of his campaign, tax-dodging, and a handful of other breaches of the law – according to the media.Whether or not these are reasonable cases, or just last-minute electoral campaigning by the anti-Humala people, we will now never know. Whatever, these doubts, as presented in the media, made little or no difference. What seemed often like a broadside campaign against Humala had either no impact, or not enough to make a difference.
  • The polls, led by CPI, Datum, Ipsos-Apoyo, seem to have done their best. But in an electorate that includes stone-age Indians and families on the Forbes list, the polls in fact could only reflect what people were thinking and could not predict accurately beyond a few days. In the middle of last week, for instance, both Datum and Apoyo had Keiko just ahead, but by Saturday Apoyo was sending its expensive banking clients clear and accurate predictions of a clear Humala victory. But this was after the markets had closed for the week.
  • The most disconcerting part of this scrappy match continues to be the complete dis-articulation of the center-right, as represented by PPK, Toledo and Castañeda. In November PPK went privately to Toledo to try to forge a deal under which PPK and Toledo would together contest the election. Toledo would hear none of it, and that was that. Toledo, a low-achiever president, proved to be a hopeless campaigner, despite heavy financing and his once-30% imploded on voting day to 15%-odd.PPK was clearly, of all the candidates, the one most capable of running a country in the 21st century. He was unable, however, to raise the cash needed for a hard-run campaign against a well-financed field. Both Keiko and Humala had plenty of cash but PPK, known personally of course to every banker and leading businessman in the country, had to finance his effort out of his own pocket.The kind of money involved might have been $3 million, perhaps $5 million. More than a hundred times that was wiped off the value of quoted shares in five minutes on Monday, and much more in other values. The coming years will for sure compound this as, the voting tsunami lines the pockets of a few, but salts the wells of families all over Peru.

Today’s Economic backdrop:

Prices on the Lima stock market collapsed at the open Monday in response to the preliminary results of the voting on Sunday and, following down-the-limit procedures, was closed for a couple of hours.  When it reopened the indexes were down around 12%.   Peru-related shares on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE instantly reflected the negative view of the business community by sinking strongly and by midday Banco de Credito/Credicorp, BAP, shares were down 14% to 87, while the Peru Investment Fund, EPU was down 12% at 38.50.
Earlier this year BAP had been at 120 and EPU at 50, so both have lost around one-quarter of their value so far this year.
Peru stocks continued to fall in afternoon trading on the NYSE.   BAP was nearly 20% down on the day at 82.   This meant a loss to shareholders just on Monday of well over $2,000 million, two billion, dollars.

EPU, the Peruvian investment fund, at 37.50, had lost a face value of around $500mn for the day.

Total face-value looses on publicly-traded shares were in excess of $6,000 million, six billion dollars.

Published June 6, 2011 by  

Business is betting that Keiko will be first past the post in a photo-finish

By Nicholas Asheshov

If the secret polls are right, and the stock market, which shot sharply up seven points on Thursday, clearly thinks they are, Keiko Fujimori will squeak past Ollanta Humala to win the run-off election on Sunday June 5 and become president as of July 28, 2011 through 2016.

As Keiko-backers see things, there was a nasty moment, polls-wise, over last week-end and at the beginning of the week when Datum’s three-point lead for Keiko, announced Sunday, slid to just a sliver and headed south.

Two or three weeks ago the tight-knit Keiko squad had been confident of a safe though perhaps not solid victory.  But reacting with a touch of panic, a word used by one of her advisors, to the week-end slouch in the polls, Keiko rallied the troops, and on Thursday morning the TV programs showed Keiko wheeling out Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Hernando de Soto, Mercedes Araoz, Maximo San Roman, Luis Castañeda and others –the solid, as they themselves see it, capable Center-Right.  Perhaps a bit of a muddled middle, but that is a characteristic of the hard-core center everywhere.

On Thursday evening PPK was the key-note speaker, apart from Keiko herself.  He had got 18+% of the votes in the first round on April 10, behind Keiko’s 23.5% and Thursday’s collection of anti-Humala worthies turned this into a pro-Keiko governing alliance.

Humala, a dangerous far-left fascist-montesinista, as Gustavo Gorriti and Alvaro Vargas Llosa among others, called him in the last election, is of course also seeking the votes of the same people of which there are surely now few.  The polls, the TV shows and the newspapers show a country passionately divided down the middle into anti-Humalas and anti-Keikos.

The one-half of the country that will vote for Keiko on Sunday see Humala as a re-run of the blundering statists of the 1970s, here and elsewhere, and their re-runs in Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina today.

The Lima intellectuals, the Caviars, led noisily today by the died-in-the-wool Thatcherite Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who treated Humala as an untouchable in 2006 and, in fact, till just a few weeks ago, today bill him as the last rampart of democracy against a reprise of the bad old ’90s when bullying kleptocrats, with Alberto Fujimori as president, cut a vicious swathe through Lima.  Keiko has become today’s untouchable.

Keiko and her people say they will be the first to steer clear of any new version of closed-door corruption.  They say that Keiko, 36, is first of all an unusually, perhaps unexpectedly capable, decisive administrator with five years as a congresswoman on her CV.   Certainly her campaign stump style has been as polished and silver-tongued as anyone’s.

Quite sharp, too: she told Humala on the TV to go and talk it over with her dad in jail if he wanted to complain about the old days.   She easily trounced the gloomily confused zoot-suited “Comandante” Humala in a last-ditch TV face-to-face on Sunday evening, and this was reflected in the poll figures used by the bankers and stock-brokers who came back to the market in mid-week.

Money talks as clearly here as elsewhere and what the market is saying is that it expects from a Fujimori government all the good things and more that it got from Alberto Fujimori 1990-95 in the way of pro-business, pro-growth legislation and non-bloated administration.

This may not have been such a many-splendored thing but it was so much better than the economic nonsense of the previous 30 years that it stands out as Peru’s first 15 minutes of flame.

Other effects are flowering a decade and more later.   Indices of poverty have come down sharply for millions of campesinos, according to studies being produced regularly by Richard Webb’s Instituto del Peru.

It was Fujimori I who introduced privatization, more sensible tax codes and up-graded public works –roads, electrification, schools.  The follow-up Toledo (2001-6) and Garcia (2006-11) administrations have bumbled through along these same lines, backed by record copper, gold, silver and other metals prices. This has come together with an international you-can’t-go-wrong easy money financial market.

This international bounty is a far cry from Fujimori 2 (1995-2001) and, of course, from Garcia I (1985-90).  And it will certainly too, be a distance from the shortening of commodity prices, the increase in inflation, the fall of the dollar that many bankers and businessmen are expecting for fasten-your-belts 2012+.

This is not the time, the Keiko people say, to be fooling around with state-run experiments that have never worked outside Northern Europe.  This is not just a question of political culture.  The Scandinavian model needs a tradition of administrators and, with it, a ton of real money.

This would not be the case with the motley crew of up-the-workers political drifters who have wandered into the Humala camp.  Been there, done that.

This is what Keiko Inc has been trying to get across these past few months without, a la peruana, actually saying so.  The code for this is:  We Must Abolish Poverty.  Keiko says, Grow out of poverty.  Humala says, Take it, Redistribute.

The juxtapositions of prominent names on both sides shimmered through the social pyramid as mobs sacked downtown Puno, including an army barracks, customs warehouses and the tax office.  “Humalists in Terror Infierno” said one headline.   It was so bad that it looked as though Puno, with 800,000 voters, would not vote on Sunday.   But things have calmed down for the moment because most of these votes are for Humala.

On a machete-edge call like Sunday’s, those votes will all count.

It has been an undistinguished campaign, these past several weeks.  Humala has focused on the inglorious past, and Keiko on a don’t-rock-the-canoe future.  There has been no talk, excepting earlier from PPK, of Peru in a world where Peruvians are young, unlike the Chinese and Europeans, nor of nano-technology, genetics and climate change, of viral pandemics and the fall-out from Moslem arcs-of-instabilit.

Neither of the candidates has made any promise to reform the judicial system root-and-branch and both have solid reasons for reticence even though all the voters understand that this is a top priority.  Humala has been financed illegally and almost openly by millions of dollars in suitcases from Col. Chavez in Caracas, and he is facing witness-tampering and torture court cases, and he has a brother doing a 25-year stretch for political murders which Ollanta himself instigated, according to electronic taps, now public.  Meanwhile Keiko has a father also doing 25 years for human rights violations, with scores of fin-de-siecle generals and ministers also behind bars.

Looking a month or three into the future one of Peru’s top business figures warns of big problems in the Congress for whoever is president, and indeed some new congressmen have already been migrating from the party for which they were elected –for instance Yehude Simon, a former PM, has switched from PPK to Humala.

But it is the overall quality of the new membership that has the business leader worried.  He says: “Compared with the incoming 2011-16) Congress, we will look back on the present (2005-2011) Congress as if it had been the classic Greek agora of Socrates and Plato.”

Published June 3, 2011 by