Shadow Government

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Peruvian election 2011

It appears from the first round of Peru’s presidential election that the trend in Latin America toward left-wing populism might have stalled. With about a fifth of the vote counted, we await a second round as no candidate received the needed 50 percent of the vote to win outright. But assuming the current trend holds, ...

Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images
Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images
Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images

It appears from the first round of Peru's presidential election that the trend in Latin America toward left-wing populism might have stalled. With about a fifth of the vote counted, we await a second round as no candidate received the needed 50 percent of the vote to win outright. But assuming the current trend holds, it is likely the Obama administration will continue to have in Peru a partner conducive to U.S. interests.  

First, some bad news: Friend of Hugo Chavez and ex-soldier Ollanta Humala leads the vote with 26.6 percent. In 2006, he ran as an avowed Chavista against current incumbent Alan Garcia (who could not succeed himself) and almost won, giving the Bush administration a scare. A Humala victory then would have meant a near-sweep in the Andean region for Chavez-style anti-U.S. politicians. Many of us working on Latin America foreign policy found ourselves in the odd situation of being relieved to see the erstwhile leftist Garcia just barely win.

In the last few weeks of the current campaign, observers came to expect a first-place finish for Humala, in part because he has done a decent job of selling himself as more of a Lula and less of a Hugo, but it was assumed that the second slot would go to ex-president Alberto Fujimori's daughter and congresswoman, Keiko. Fujimori père is serving time for human rights abuses and his daughter's supporters champion her as someone who would continue her father's legacy as a champion of the poor from the more capitalist side of the spectrum as well as a scourge to the resurgent communist narco-terrorists that her father routed. But her detractors note that, should she win, it will not be good for Peru (or the Obama administration) to have the disgraced father trying to run the country from jail through his daughter.

It appears from the first round of Peru’s presidential election that the trend in Latin America toward left-wing populism might have stalled. With about a fifth of the vote counted, we await a second round as no candidate received the needed 50 percent of the vote to win outright. But assuming the current trend holds, it is likely the Obama administration will continue to have in Peru a partner conducive to U.S. interests.  

First, some bad news: Friend of Hugo Chavez and ex-soldier Ollanta Humala leads the vote with 26.6 percent. In 2006, he ran as an avowed Chavista against current incumbent Alan Garcia (who could not succeed himself) and almost won, giving the Bush administration a scare. A Humala victory then would have meant a near-sweep in the Andean region for Chavez-style anti-U.S. politicians. Many of us working on Latin America foreign policy found ourselves in the odd situation of being relieved to see the erstwhile leftist Garcia just barely win.

In the last few weeks of the current campaign, observers came to expect a first-place finish for Humala, in part because he has done a decent job of selling himself as more of a Lula and less of a Hugo, but it was assumed that the second slot would go to ex-president Alberto Fujimori’s daughter and congresswoman, Keiko. Fujimori père is serving time for human rights abuses and his daughter’s supporters champion her as someone who would continue her father’s legacy as a champion of the poor from the more capitalist side of the spectrum as well as a scourge to the resurgent communist narco-terrorists that her father routed. But her detractors note that, should she win, it will not be good for Peru (or the Obama administration) to have the disgraced father trying to run the country from jail through his daughter.

Former presidential candidate and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called the possible choice between Humala and Fujimori a choice "between cancer and AIDS." But here is the good news: Keiko came in third with 21.1 percent, so Peruvians likely won’t face that choice.

And now for the best news: second-place went to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski with 24.5 percent, and a better friend the United States (and liberal democracy and free market capitalism) is unlikely to have among the candidates. Kuczynski is impressive. From the start of his career in the 1960s, he was a World Bank economist, worked at the Peruvian central bank, and served as a cabinet minister in the 1980s opening the economy to foreign investment. In the early 2000s he was prime minister under pro-U.S. president, Alejandro Toledo. (Toledo, trying this year to return to the presidency, had led in early polls but this time he came in fourth with only 15.6 percent of the vote.) In between these government stints, Kuczynski was running U.S.-based mining and investment companies. His academic background includes Oxford and Princeton.

The United States has been fortunate in that Peruvians have for over 20 years elected presidents who desire to be close to the United Sates, trade with the United States, control their economies and work to alleviate poverty. We dodged a bullet in 2006 and it appears we might again as well. If we add up the vote that Kuczyski, Fujimori and Toledo received in the first round, it is 61.1 percent, meaning that well over 50 percent of the electorate chose not to support a Chavista retread.

We do not yet have a final first round vote count, but it is unlikely that Humala will win it. So then, Kuczynski, with a good campaign that attracts the growing middle class (Garcia has left behind a strengthening economy and serious if not yet successful anti-poverty efforts), champions his skills and experience, and reminds voters of the advantages of a close relationship to the United States that he can uniquely husband, he is likely to bring along the Fujimori and Toledo voters.

What should the Obama administration do as the campaign continues? Simply make clear (I’d even suggest harping a bit) what we always hope for: to have good relations with democratic governments that respect the freedom of their citizens and, just as importantly, the peace and progress of the region. That message, regularly and clearly avowed, is sufficient to remind our Peruvian friends that the United States is an eager partner for peace and prosperity and there is one obvious candidate who can take advantage of such a partnership.

Paul J. Bonicelli is professor of government at Regent University, and served as the assistantadministrator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United States Agency for International Development.

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