New York Times: Ex-Military Officer Jolts Peru Presidential Race April 10, 2011Posted by jaldenh in News & Views.
By SIMON ROMERO and ANDREA ZARATE
Published: April 9, 2011
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — In a Peruvian presidential campaign field full of wild cards, Ollanta Humala, a nationalist former military officer who led a thwarted army revolt in 2000, has emerged as a strong front-runner and injected fresh uncertainty into the Andean nation’s political system.
Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press
Mr. Humala’s rapid climb in the polls ahead of the Sunday elections — he has surpassed establishment candidates who more closely support the government’s market-oriented policies — has also highlighted an apparent paradox in which Peru’s booming economy masks deep discontent with its politics.
Alejandro Toledo, a former president who had been leading in opinion polls, has slipped behind Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, the former president who was jailed for human rights violations, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former finance minister.
Still, no candidate is favored to win a majority on Sunday, which would force a runoff election in June. The situation resembles the race in 2006, when Mr. Humala lost a runoff to Alan García, the current president, but he has run a more sophisticated campaign this time around.
Mr. Humala, 48, has swapped his red T-shirts for a jacket and tie, hired Brazilian image consultants and has rethought his public admiration of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, instead drawing inspiration from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a moderate leftist and former president of Brazil.
When Mr. Chávez called Mr. Humala a “good soldier” last month, the candidate took the opportunity to assert his independence, asking the Venezuelan leader to “stay out of the election campaign” and insisting, “I don’t need anyone telling me I’m a good soldier or not.”
Mr. Humala, who had been polling in the single digits after his defeat in 2006, has also tapped into the festering discontent over poverty levels that have endured even as Peru has won praise for policies that have made it one of the developing world’s fastest-growing economies.
Despite a nationwide boom fueled by commodities exports, inequality persists, especially in the high-altitude rural areas, where 66 percent of the population remains poor and about a third are mired in extreme poverty, according to a new report by the World Bank.
The report also noted that while incomes among poor Peruvians had climbed in recent years, incomes among Peru’s rich had risen faster, opening opportunities for a candidate who emphasizes the resentment among those feeling left behind.
Concerns over crime and government corruption and incompetence in Peru, which is grappling with a lingering insurgency of the Shining Path guerrillas and a drug trade that is flourishing once again, have also benefited Mr. Humala.
“There are too many delinquents, and there’s no respect anymore,” said Uligario Ayala, 56, a gardener in Lima. “Ollanta wants equality. I used to vote for Toledo, but now I’m for Ollanta.”
Mr. Humala is not the only wild card on the rise. Ms. Fujimori, 35, has also leapt in the polls by passionately defending her father and promising to grant him a pardon if elected.
The possibility of a runoff between Mr. Humala, whose own controversial father, Isaac Humala, espouses an ultranationalist ideology, and Ms. Fujimori has some in Peru despondent.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian writer who made an unsuccessful presidential bid of his own in 1990, recently called the race a “tournament of clowns with an absence of an ideological debate.” He said that it would be a “catastrophe” if any of the leading candidates won and that he planned to vote for Mr. Toledo.
Mr. Vargas Llosa also had particularly harsh words for Ms. Fujimori, whom he called the “daughter of a dictator, criminal and thief.”
Political analysts are trying to determine whether Mr. Humala’s mellowing since his previous campaign is cosmetic or more profound. Given Peru’s relative stability since the 1990s, some say it is inappropriate to quickly group him with other nationalistic leftists in the region.
“Even if Humala were to win, the comparison is not really valid with Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales or Rafael Correa,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research group in Washington, referring to the leftist presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
“In those three cases, there had been a collapse of the political system,” Mr. Shifter said. “In Peru, the context is different, with the collapse taking place years ago. People like the economic model; they just want to correct some issues with distribution and corruption.”
Mr. Humala has sought to assuage concerns among business interests about changes he wants in Peru, including a constitutional overhaul to prioritize social welfare for the poor and to assert greater state control over the mining and energy industries.
The influence of Mr. Humala’s controversial family seems to have also been muted in this campaign. He has avoided focusing on his brother, Antauro Humala, who is in prison for leading a military rebellion in 2005, and his father.
The family patriarch helped develop Peru’s ultranationalist “ethnocacerism” movement, named in honor of Gen. Andrés Avelino Cáceres, a hero in Peru’s 19th-century war against neighboring Chile. The ethnocacerists advocate political supremacy for the so-called copper-skinned descendants of Peru’s Indians.
Still, Mr. Humala has not been above stirring anti-Chilean sentiment during the campaign, which his critics contend is to deflect attention from comparisons to Mr. Chávez.
In February, Mr. Humala brought up the treatment of Peruvian immigrants in Chile, telling Sebastián Piñera, the Chilean president, “We will treat you in Peru the same way you treat us in your country.” Those comments have raised concern in Chile, a major investor in Peru.