Ollanta HumalaThe Peru Presidential Election Finalists, Part 2: Ollanta Humala

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

After having come close to winning the Peruvian presidential elections in 2006, Ollanta Humala will once again compete in the final round of voting this Sunday, June 5 to determine who will be Peru’s next president; this time however, the outcome is far less certain than was the case the last time around when he faced Alan Garcia. While Keiko Fujimori maintains a slight lead over Humala, the most recent polls have the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with less than one percentage point difference between them. If this trend remains unaltered on election day, then quick counts may not be able to discern a clear winner, and official results could be delayed for two weeks or more. This could escalate the existing climate of polarization that is a notable feature of this drawn-out electoral process.

Both candidates have evoked strong negative reactions from sectors of the electorate. With less than a week to go, the percentage of voters who say that they would never vote for either candidate is very high, at 40 percent for Humala and 39 percent for Keiko (though this is down significantly from the first round, when 50 percent or more said they would not vote for either candidate). While many believe that Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy represents a return to fujimorismo of the 1990s—characterized by the dismantling of democratic institutions, human rights violations, massive corruption, and impunity—for others Humala’s candidacy has evoked fears of the emergence of another Hugo Chávez-style government that could subvert democracy and transform Peru’s economic “success story” into an economic ruin.

Yet the Ollanta Humala of 2011 is presenting a quite different image from the Humala who nearly defeated Alan García in 2006. Humala has sought to distance himself from Chávez, presenting himself instead as a more moderate candidate in the mold of the highly popular former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Indeed, when Chávez spoke out about the first round of voting, Humala asked him not to intervene in Peruvian politics. And while the press has spread rumors of Venezuelan campaign contributions, no evidence of such support has been found.

More importantly, since the first round of voting Humala has broadened his team of advisers to include a range of progressive and moderate Peruvians, such as economists Danny Schydlowsky and Javier Iguiniz, jurist Fransico Eguiguren and others. The new technical team has produced a consensus document that reflects the broadened political coalition, which lays out a government program oriented towards improving Peru’s vastly unequal income distribution while respecting the free market economic model, promises to make the Peruvian state more transparent and to root out corruption, and that guarantees respect for democracy and human rights. Most importantly, the new plan offers a government of concertacion nacional, or a government of national unity.

Critics claim that this is a ploy to appeal to moderate voters, but that once in office, Humala will revert to his radical, leftist ways of the past. However, others believe that Humala’s conversion is genuine —and that there will be significant popular pressure on him to abide by his campaign promises. This includes Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who had famously said, prior to Peru’s first-round vote, that if the election were to come down to a decision between Humala and Fujimori, it would be like having to choose between AIDS and terminal cancer. Days after the first-round vote, however, Vargas Llosa came out in favor of Humala. He has since published articles and made several statements reiterating his reasons for this decision, among them the need to prevent the return of the Fujimori-Montesinos mafia, which he argues would occur should Keiko Fujimori be elected president.

When pressed in a recent interview about his support for Humala, Vargas Llosa said: “Humala today is surrounded by many more democratic individuals than those seeking a socialist revolution…If he wins the elections it will be because he has the support of an important sector of democratic, liberal Peruvians, like myself.”

Other prominent Peruvian intellectuals have made similar pronouncements, from writers to artists to academics, like Vargas Llosa, in support of Humala and insisting on the need to prevent a return of fujimorismo. Perhaps the most important endorsement this past week came from former President Alejandro Toledo. As Toledo led the battle against the Fujimori dictatorship in the 2000 elections, many political observers assumed he would, like others, back Humala in the final stage of the campaign. Toledo held out, however, until May 26 when he announced that his party “has decided to support, without any ambiguities, the candidate of Ollanta Humala.” That same day, Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki, not surprisingly, announced his support for Keiko Fujimori.

Even human rights groups that have criticized Humala in the past due to credible allegations of his involvement in human rights violations when he was a captain in the army during Peru’s internal armed conflict, have opted to support Humala, albeit reluctantly. The initial case against Humala brought by human rights groups was dismissed after the witnesses reversed their testimony, an occurrence that is disturbingly common in Peru, as witnesses are bribed or threatened into retracting their initial statements. A case is now moving forward in the courts in which a close associate of Humala is accused of doing just that. But recent revelations in La República suggest that some of these accusations may be a fabrication of the Peruvian intelligence services designed to discredit Humala, a disturbing indicator of how the methods of the past are being resurrected in an effort to assure Fujimori’s victory on June 5.

While some have criticized human rights organizations for taking a partisan position, the argument of many human rights activists is that in the face of the current electoral choices, they have no option but to vote for Humala to prevent a return of fujimorismo. For example, Ernesto de la Jara, the Director of the Instituto de Defensa Legaal (IDL), argues that he will vote for Humala because he is “absolutely certain that a return to Fujimorismo… is the worst thing that could happen to Peru… Humala is distrusted for a number of things that he could do, but Fujimori has already done them all: remain in power for longer than the Constitution permits; threaten freedom of expression and institutional independence; govern with the support of the military; approve a new, hand-tailored Constitution; have ties to Chávez; and be a populist, having the state’s resources at his disposal.” (See full statement here.)

After the first round of voting, many who absolutely rejected a return of Fuimorismo but had concerns about Humala called on the candidate to officially and publicly commit to respecting the democratic rules of the game. He did so on May 19 in a public ceremony, in which he swore on a bible and read a statement “in defense of democracy and against the dictatorship.” The ceremony was preceded by a brief statement by Vargas Llosa by videoconference from Spain. Though it was a landmark moment in his campaign, it got virtually no press coverage in Peru due to the absolute bias in the Peruvian media in favor of Fujimori’s candidacy that we reported on in a previous post. (Such is the scenario that yesterday, Vargas Llosa made public a letter to the director of El Comercio, Peru’s largest-circulation daily, saying he would no longer publish his weekly columns there since it has joined the Fujimori “political machine.”)

In his speech, Humala pledged that if elected he would respect the five-year presidential term limit and not seek any constitutional change that would permit his reelection; respect the independence and authority of the other branches of government; respect the human rights of all Peruvians and to avoid any type of political interference in investigations into human rights cases that are on-going or opened in the future (no such promise has been forthcoming from Keiko Fujimori); and respect and guarantee freedom of expression and of the press. He also pledged to implement policies to achieve a more just distribution of Peru’s economic resources and greater economic, social, political and cultural inclusion of all Peruvians, especially those living in poverty or extreme poverty, while ensuring that these changes will be carried out respecting the rule of law and taking into account the need not to risk and to stimulate economic growth. In so doing, he addressed the demand of many of his reluctant supporters that he formally pledge to respect the democratic rules of the game.

As we have clearly stated in previous posts, there are very real reasons to be concerned about an Humala presidency, particularly in the area of human rights. However, in 2011 he has presented a more moderate image, while remaining firm in his commitment to address Peru’s continuing and deep inequalities, and has taken steps necessary to broaden his political base of support. Whether or not his actions are sufficient to propel him to victory in the final round of voting remains to be seen.

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

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