What to expect in Peru’s general elections on Sunday

Ahead of the general elections in Peru on April 11, we look at the leading candidates, their backgrounds and their proposals to deal with the crises facing the country

April 09, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
Progressive candidate Veronika Mendoza is one of the 5 front runners in the upcoming presidential elections in Peru. Photo: Brasil de Fato

On April 11, over 25 million Peruvians will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president, two vice presidents, 130 members of the unicameral Congress and 5 representatives of the Andean Parliament for the period 2021-2026.

A total number of 18 candidates are contesting in the presidential elections. According to the country’s constitution, in order to win the presidential elections in the first round, a candidate has to obtain more than 50% of the votes. In case no candidate wins a simple majority, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates on June 6.

The new head of state and his vice presidents will take office on July 28, while the newly elected legislators will be sworn in on July 27.

Who are the leading candidates?

The candidates who are leading the voting intention according to various opinion polls include Yonhy Lescano of the center-right Popular Action party, Hernando de Soto of the center-right Go on Country party, Verónika Mendoza of the progressive Together for Peru, George Forsyth of the center-right National Victory party, Keiko Fujimori of the far-right Popular Force party, and Rafael López Aliaga of the right-wing Popular Renewal party. However, according to various opinion polls, the final fight will be among Lescano, De Soto, Mendoza and Forsyth.

62-year-old Lescano is a lawyer. He started his political career in 2001 when he was elected as a deputy for his hometown, Puno. He served as a congressman for four terms from 2001 to 2019. He is running for the presidency for the first time. He hails from a party that was in power on three occasions, but suffered from an extensive popular rejection under the last government of interim president Manuel Merino.

Merino ruled for less than a week in November 2020 following the impeachment of former President Martín Vizcarra, which was considered as a parliamentary coup by the population. During his short term, Merino unleashed a lethal crackdown on protesters, in which two people were killed, over a 100 were injured and 40 were disappeared. Within six days, he was forced to quit due to outrage over police repression on protesters. Although Lescano has distanced himself from Merino, it remains to be seen if he will be able to overcome the popular dissatisfaction.

79-year-old De Soto is a neoliberal economist and the president of a Lima-based think tank, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy. He was a close and influential adviser to former dictator Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. He also advised and endorsed his daughter Keiko Fujimori in her last two presidential runs. This is De Soto’s first bid for presidency and he is running for a small and not-so-well-known party. He rose as one of the front-runners only in the recent weeks.

39-year-old Mendoza is one of the few left-wing candidates running for the presidency and is the only progressive candidate among the leading candidates. She is the president of the New Peru political movement and served as a congresswoman from 2011 to 2016. This is the second time she is running for presidency. In 2016, she competed for the Broad Front and obtained the third highest number of votes and missed the runoff by less than 3% of the votes. This time, she has gained more support because of her promising and transparent plans for social policies to address inequality that has deepened due to the social, economic and political crises in the country.

38-year-old Forsyth is a former professional goalkeeper of a Peruvian club soccer team, Alianza Lima. He was mayor of the La Victoria district of Lima from 2018 to 2020 and resigned from the position last year in order to run in the presidential elections. This is his first run for presidency and he enjoys widespread recognition and popularity among Peruvians. However, he is inexperienced and his platform lacks concrete policies as compared to other candidates.

Forsyth is advertising his short political career as a guarantee that he is not “corrupt.” However, in February, his candidacy was annulled by the electoral authorities due to discrepancies over his declared income and assets. Forsyth rejected the resolution and appealed the decision.

Keiko Fujimori, representing the furthest right political tendency with Popular Force party, is the daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori and is currently being accused of corruption and money laundering in the Odebrecht case in the country.

What do the opinion polls suggest?

Various opinion polls suggest that the voting intention in the upcoming elections is highly fragmented and divided, and that the second round of presidential elections is inevitable.

According to the latest opinion poll on voting intention conducted by Ipsos Peru, published on April 4, there is a technical tie between five candidates. Lescano is leading with 10% of the votes. De Soto and Mendoza both are placed second with 9% of the votes each. Likewise, Forsyth and Fujimori are in the third place with 8% of the votes each. Behind them is López Aliaga with 6% of the votes.

Meanwhile, in the latest mock voting by the poller, Lescano continues to lead with 14.7% of the votes. He is followed by De Soto with 13.9% of the votes, Mendoza with 12.4%, Forsyth with 11.9%, Fujimori with 11.2%, and López Aliaga with 8.2% of the votes.

On the other hand, according to the last opinion poll conducted by the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (CELAG) between February 23 and March 25, in 29 locations in 17 departments of the country, Lescano obtained 15.6%, Forsyth received 13.1%, Mendoza secured 11.2% and De Soto won 8.6% of the votes. They are followed by Fujimori with 7% and López Aliaga with 5.1% of the votes.

What are some of the main challenges for the new government?

The upcoming electoral process is crucial for the political stability and institutional recovery in the country. The last term (2016-2021) was marked by the impeachment of two presidents -Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in March 2018 and Vizcarra in November 2020- for their involvement in corruption scandals, as well as the dissolution of congress in September 2019. The current legislative body was elected in special elections in January 2020 and the current president, Francisco Sagasti, has been serving as interim president since November 2020.

Besides the political unrest, Peru is also witnessing an enormous economic, health and social crisis. The country’s economy contracted by over 11% in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading to greater poverty and economic insecurity under Vizcarra’s neoliberal government. Following his impeachment, Peru saw widespread protests demanding systemic change. Progressive sectors emphasized on the need to re-found the country, beginning with the drafting of a new constitution.

With respect to the health crisis, Peru was and still is among the most severely affected nations in Latin America as well as in the world by COVID-19. The country also has the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the region. Presently, like other Latin American countries, it is struggling to contain a recent surge in cases due to the new and more contagious virus variants. The country is recording over 5,000 cases per day. As of April 8, Peru has recorded 1,617,864 cases of COVID-19 and 53,978 deaths due to the disease.

Regarding COVID-19 vaccination, the country is a long way from reaching any type of herd immunity that would make the situation better. As of April 8, 948,901 vaccine doses have been administered to the people. However, only 345,293 people or 1.08% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.

Furthermore, the vaccine roll-out in the country has been marked by irregularities. Peru began inoculating its citizens on February 9 with the Chinese state-owned Sinopharma’s vaccines. A week later, it was revealed that nearly 500 ministers, government officials and their family members took advantage of their connections to receive the vaccine outside of protocol. The scandal prompted the country’s health and foreign affairs ministers to resign.

The new government will face the challenge of rebuilding the country, mired in corruption and neoliberal policies, and regain the trust of its population, tired of unfulfilled electoral promises.

How do the candidates plan to address the crisis facing Peru?

Lescano has stressed on the need to “deglobalize” the Peruvian economy and strengthen domestic production, but he has said that he would not nationalize any company and would rather promote a “social market economy.” He has promised to create five million jobs in five years and reduce informal work from over 70% to 30%. He has assured to increase the budget for the public healthcare sector to raise the salaries of health professionals and open new hospitals. He has also expressed himself in the favor of rewriting Peru’s constitution to more equitably divide the country’s resources from the extractive industries, but has spoken against the abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

De Soto has promised to eradicate informal employment. He has proposed to allow private companies to purchase and distribute vaccines. He has expressed himself against rewriting the country’s constitution. He has also explicitly pronounced himself against migrant rights, for which he has been criticized.

Mendoza has announced 20 immediate measures to lift the country out of the current economic and health crisis. She has proposed to implement progressive reforms in taxes, increase public investment by 2% of national GDP in the first year of her term, invest in public infrastructure projects creating jobs, and support small businesses. She has also pledged to promote measures that protect the environment, support the agrarian reform demanded by the sector, overhaul the pension system, strengthen regional integration, among others.

With regard to healthcare, she has promised to guarantee universal and free vaccination. She has already approached Argentine President Alberto Fernández, asking for his support to facilitate Peru with the anti-covid vaccines that Argentina will produce together with Mexico.

Mendoza has also proposed to rewrite the constitution. She is the only candidate who promotes the construction of a Plurinational State. She has vowed to strengthen intercultural institutions to guarantee the collective rights of Indigenous people. She is also the only candidate to support legal abortion and same-sex marriage.

Forsyth hasn’t provided much details of his plans, but has proposed pro-business, anti-corruption, and tough on crime policies. He has promised to vaccinate all Peruvians by the end of the year. With respect to drafting a new constitution, he called for amending the constitution to declare corruption a crime against humanity.

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