PERU: Centre-Left Candidate Surges Ahead in Lima Mayoral Contest

  • by Ángel Páez (lima)
  • Inter Press Service

In mid-July, Villarán had just four percent ratings in the polls, while Flores was breathing easy with 37 percent support, according to the Public Opinion Institute (IOP) of the private Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

But in the latest IOP survey, published Sept. 25, Villarán had climbed to 46 percent, leaving behind Flores with just 21 support.

Two other polls also showed Villarán ahead: Ipsos-Apoyo reported that she had 40 percent backing compared to Flores's 28 percent, and Datum reported 34.4 percent against 26.7 percent, respectively.

If the 61-year-old Villarán wins on Sunday, she will become the second leftist mayor ever to govern Lima, after Marxist labour lawyer Alfonso Barrantes won the municipal elections 27 years ago representing the now-defunct United Left (IU) coalition.

Villarán, who formed part of Barrantes' team, is the Lima candidate for the Social Force Party, founded in 2007 by regional groups and movements that joined together with the Social Democracy Party (PDS), for which she ran as president in 2006, taking just 0.6 percent of the vote.

'The United Left was the result of 25 years of organisational effort to bring together the fragmented forces of the left,' said Michael Azcueta, who was IU mayor of Villa El Salvador, a low-income district of Lima, at the same time Barrantes was mayor of the capital.

In other words, the IU represented the coming together of most of the left-wing parties and movements that were forged during the 1968-1980 military regime.

'Social Force, on the other hand, represents a proposal by one sector of the left, the possibility of a party that has revived the hopes of one part of the left,' he told IPS. 'They are different things. But it is clear that there is no unity among the left.'

The last debate between Villarán and Flores, of the conservative Christian Popular Party-National Unity, was on Monday. The two candidates had a similar take on the most pressing concerns, like public safety, transportation and basic services.

But in the debate, Flores launched a frontal attack on Villarán, alleging that she was a communist sympathiser of the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

Flores, in sharp contrast with Villarán, is backed by most of the media, which have given particularly heavy coverage to accusations against the centre-left candidate.

'The campaign against Villarán does not appear to have been effective in virtually any sector of society,' political science professor Eduardo Dargent told IPS. 'Her popularity in the lowest-income sectors has clearly grown steadily, despite the barrage of criticism aimed at her.

'These fear-mongering messages have been addressed to the popular sectors, but it is in precisely those parts of society that Villarán's support base has grown,' said Dargent, author of the 2009 book 'Demócratas precarios. Élites y debilidad democrática en el Perú y América Latina' (roughly, 'Precarious Democrats: Elites and Democratic Weakness in Peru and Latin America').

Flores, a 50-year-old lawyer who has the support of the business community, has run for president twice without success. In 2001, she was defeated by Alejandro Toledo (2001-2005), and in 2006 she ended up in third place after nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala and social democrat Alan García (2006-2010), who won in the second round.

Villarán also benefited from the electoral authorities' Aug. 23 decision to disqualify popular conservative candidate Alex Kouri because he lied about his address and is not actually a resident of Lima, but lives in the nearby port city of El Callao.

Kouri, who was the front-runner in the polls, is seen as close to former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) and his former security chief Vladimiro Montesinos, both of whom are in prison on multiple charges of corruption and human rights abuses.

Because of the taint of Kouri's association with them, Flores campaigned as the candidate 'against corruption and the 'fujimontesinista' mafia.'

But things shifted when Kouri left the race.

'The municipal elections show that due to the weakness or absence of political parties, things can change very quickly,' said Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard and visiting professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

'People don't have party loyalty -- they just vote for the candidates,' he told IPS.

'Three months ago, a lot of people were going to vote for Lourdes Flores, not because they particularly agreed with her, but because she was the only one capable of beating Alex Kouri. When Kouri was disqualified, the equation changed completely. Without Kouri, the anti-Fujimori electorate had some freedom of choice.'

Some analysts see the race for mayor of Lima as a kind of rehearsal for the April 2011 presidential elections. But Levitsky said that what happens in the municipal elections will not influence next year's polls.

'I don't think the outcome of the municipal elections will have much of an impact on the presidential vote,' he said. 'It will be the same, even if Villarán wins. The vote for her is not a leftist vote, it's just a vote for Villarán, for a candidate who has struck a chord among voters because she seems honest and capable. It doesn't mean a resurgence of the left, nor would it help Humala.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service