How Peru is poised to defy Washington

Fujimori versus Humala is a battle of neoliberal continuity against progressive reform.

On 10 April, Peruvians went to the polls in the first round of the country's presidential elections. No candidate obtained the 50 per cent share necessary to assume the job outright, and so, in just over a month, Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori will go head to head in a contest that has ramifications that go far beyond the country's borders.

The duel certainly represents a clash of ideologies. Fujimori, aged just 35, is the daughter of the former president Alberto, currently serving a 25-year jail term for crimes against humanity committed during his ten-year reign between 1990 and 2000.

Harden your lines

Despite his transgressions, a significant number of people in Peru are grateful to Fujimori Sr for crushing the Shining Path guerrilla movement that waged a bloody, 20-year insurgency against the state. He also wins praise for reducing inflation and initiating food distribution programmes in poor districts.

Keiko, who enjoys near-blanket support from Peru's corporate media, has promised to institute peripheral welfare schemes in an effort to secure support from the nation's poorest. However, she endorses the neoliberal economic principles that have earned the country a deserved reputation as one of the world's most unequal societies.

Many also fear that she would pardon her father and his cronies and take a hard line against indigenous groups clamouring for a bigger slice of the nation's resource revenue.

She has endorsed the "security policies" of the former Colombian president and US darling Álvaro Uribe, who presided over a draconian police state, smashed the unions and gave weapons and impunity to paramilitary death squads prior to leaving office last year.

Human hybrid

Humala, who took 31.7 per cent of votes compared to Fujimori's 23.5 per cent in the first round, is a former army officer who has positioned himself as something of a hybrid of Hugo Chávez's radical wealth redistribution and Lula da Silva's more moderate social inclusion policies.

He was vocal in condemning the government's crackdown against a protest by mine workers in April, during which nine people were killed,. Such incidents are becoming increasingly frequent under the current president, Alan García. Humala attributes the labour unrest to a lack of dialogue between community groups and a government that tends to side with the interests of foreign capital.

Humala has pledged to renegotiate contracts between the state and multinational companies operating in Peru, particularly in the mining sector. He says his aim is to channel more money into desperately needed social welfare schemes and boost the country's pension reserves.

Polls place Humala 6 points ahead of Fujimori as the run-off approaches. Victory would make Peru the latest Latin American country to elect a progressive leader in defiance of the Washington Consensus. That has not gone unnoticed in the US, all too aware of its dwindling influence in a region once regarded as its "backyard".

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The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.