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Peru - Political Parties

In Peru's still-consolidating democracy, general institutional fragility and ineffectiveness are acutely reflected in the country's established political parties. The Peruvian electorate is largely composed of floating voters without attachments to parties, making large swings in voting patterns quite common. Weak and often personality-based, parties represent narrow constituencies, mostly in urban areas, rather than broad cross-sections of society. Because parties have been unable to articulate a national vision, there are virtually no broad-based political movements or coalitions with extensive popular support nation-wide.

In addition, parties are often reluctant to open themselves up to outside participation and renovate their leadership with new blood; as a result, they have among the lowest levels of citizen confidence among all democratic institutions.

Peru was the first country in Latin America to suffer a party system collapse (in the early 1990s), followed by Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Since that collapse, Peru has been unable to either reconstruct its old party system (that which emerged in the 1980s), or construct a new one.

Political parties, which are supposed to represent broad social currents and diverse interest groups throughout the country, are seen as creatures of narrower scope, often dominated by one charismatic figure, usually in Lima. Party leaders complain of other exacerbating factors, including a restrictive political party law that regulates the registration, internal democracy, and financing of formal parties while leaving "informal" regional movements free to act as they please -- and therefore to proliferate. This situation has weakened traditional parties, contributed to the fragmentation of political representation and complicated the prospects of Peru's democratic consolidation.

According to the 2008 Americas Barometer poll, only 20% of Peruvians identified with a party - down from 30% in 2006. This means that 80% of electorate is up for grabs in the next election, without an identified mechanism to channel their interests, proposals, or complaints to the government. It also left the great majority of voters potentially open to the appeal of the "outsider" candidate - a fresh face unconnected to any established party who articulates frustration with the current political system and its ineffective or corrupt institutions.

Part of the disenchantment with parties stemmed from a larger frustration with successive governments perceived as unable or unwilling to resolve Peru's persistent structural problems, such as inequality, poverty and unemployment, in an (as yet) politically decisive way. In this sense, because parties form governments and legislatures, they have limited credibility as actors capable of addressing the population's needs.

Paradoxically, despite declining popular support, the number of parties in Peru was increasing: by 2011 at least 26 parties were registered in a country of 28 million, with more on the path to registration. This bewildering array of options made it even more difficult for the average citizen to distinguish among parties and what they offer.

As one local analyst put it, parties in Peru display symptoms of autism: they repeat the same messages over and over, are incapable of recognizing the valid participation of others, and are largely focused on internal concerns.

Outside Lima and other major population centers, national parties that link together Peru's diverse regions are essentially absent, making it difficult to develop consensus and compromise on national policies and legislation. While national party figures travel to the regions to build party structures and identify candidates for local office, they are usually unfamiliar with the key local issues and unable to judge and select appropriate leaders with potential national projection.

As a result, in 2006, regional movements representing often narrow local platforms and visions captured 21 of 25 regional presidencies. Peru's traditional parties lost control of the political map in the 19 November 2006 regional and municipal elections. The APRA, which claimed 12 regional presidencies in 2002, came away with only 2 (La Libertad and Piura) this time around. At the same time, Humala's PNP failed to capture a single regional presidency and won only one provincial capital (Arequipa). (Even there the winner has much closer ties to the local community than to the party, ref.) The UPP, the PNP's former coalition partner, won only one regional presidency, in Cusco. Finally, the UN won the mayoral seat in Lima and 24 of Lima's 41 districts but failed to capture a single office outside the capital.

Collapsed faith in the traditional parties combined with low barriers to entry for new parties produced a plethora of local candidates and many new office holders whose appeal and reach are narrowly circumscribed. Independent parties and local social movements won 21 of the 25 regional presidencies, most of the provincial capitals, and a host of local offices. The raft of locally-based winners reflects voters' preferences for candidates they perceive as closer to their interests rather than more distant influences.

While these regional movements vary in effectiveness and popular support, they have no single political vision or program binding them to one another or to a national political vision, which generated a highly fragmented and fractured political environment at the national level. Several regional leaders, such as Mayor of Trujillo Cesar Acuna and President of San Martin Cesar Villanueva, tried to project a national vision from a regional base in the run-up to the 2011 elections.

The weakened state of political parties meant that regional movements, outsider candidates and potential anti-system elements remain well-placed to fill the vacuum and surge as genuine electoral alternatives. While the absence of established national parties with nationwide constituencies need not lead inexorably to the selection of an "outsider" or anti-system candidate, it would seem to make such a choice more likely. A politician keenly attuned to the spirit of the times, even President Garcia stated that the next APRA candidate would be an "outsider."

In 1990 the Peruvian electorate by and large rejected established parties and voted for a virtual unknown from outside the traditional party system. Alberto Fujimori's rapid and sudden rise to power and the resulting government that lacked a political party base signified a crisis for Peru's party system, and a crisis of representation more generally. These crises resulted from the severity of the socioeconomic situation and also from the poor performance of several of the traditional parties in government.

The Democratic Front

The AP and the PPC together provided the organizational basis for Mario Vargas Llosa and his independent Liberty Movement (Movimiento de Libertad). Vargas Llosa, who entered politics to protest Garcia's nationalization of Peru's banks in 1987, started out as an independent, backed by the Liberty Movement. In late 1988, however, Vargas Llosa made a formal alliance, known as Fredemo, with the AP and the PPC because he felt such an alliance would provide him with a necessary party organizational base. By doing so, he alienated several members of his own coalition, including one of his primary backers, Hernando de Soto, who felt that Vargas Llosa was allying with the "traditional" right.

Analysis of the electoral results indicated that the majority of voters were also reluctant to support Peru's traditional, conservative politicians. The Fredemo campaign spent inordinate amounts of money on advertisingUS$12 million, versus US$2 million spent by the next highest spender, APRA. The free spending, in conjunction with the use in television campaign advertisements featuring white, foreign-born singers, revealed how these parties continued to represent the interests of the nation's elite, who were of European ancestry, and how out of touch they were with the nation's poor, who were of indigenous heritage.

Union for Peru

The UPP party was formed in 1994 as a campaign vehicle for Javier Perez de Cuellar. The former UN secretary general captured 21 percent of the vote, a distant second to Fujimori. In 2006, the UPP aligned itself with the Peruvian National Party and endorsed Ollanta Humala for president.

Force 2011 (Fuerza 2011)

Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, who often placed second in the polls behind CastaCleda, derived her popularity almost exclusively from her father, former President Alberto Fujimori. Keiko's nascent political movement, Force 2011 (Fuerza 2011), was made up of a succession of fujimorista "parties" with little internal structure or organization but a solid base of support in middle and lower class areas that formed the backbone of former President Fujimori's political strength.

Omar Sanchez-Sibony noted that "... the official platform of Fuerza 2011 offered a rehash of the (clientelistic) policies of the 1990s, without saying which programmes had priority, what was their implementation timeline, or how they would be paid for. The Fujimori platform offered to improve education, broaden access to health care, create a new social safety net, supply housing withattendant property titles, and reduce child nutrition, among others. An improvised proposal called Mi Primera Chamba offered 200,000 new temporary jobs and technical training for 6months to Perus unemployed young. It was estimated that the fiscal costs of the combinedsocial policies proposed amounted to no less than 20% of GDP, or almost 1-years worth of Perus exports...

"In short, Fuerza 2011s offerings in the social realm addedup to classic economic populism: plenty of popular promises, but in combination fiscally unaf-fordable or economically unsustainable. In the realm of macroeconomics, Fujimoris orientation was strictly orthodox and in keeping with the Toledo and Garcia administrations,thereby ensuring the endorsement of the business community."

While defending Fujimoris abuses in the fight against terrorism, Jorge Telles, one of the chief spokesmen of Fuerza 2011, declared that nosotros matamos menos (we killed less people) in comparison to the governments of Alan Garcia and Fernando Belaunde. Such comments harked back to the dark days of the Fujimori era (19902000).



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