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ALAN GARCIA, PRESIDENT OF PERU - How it happened and what it means

By Thiago de Aragao.

Date: Monday 3 July 2006

Alan Garcia's Background

The victory of the social democrat Alan Garcia in Peru is of no less concern for the South American community than the victory of the extreme-nationalist Ollanta Humala would have been. The reason for such concern, besides the ruinous government of Alan Garcia between 1985 and 1990 in Peru, is the image it presents to the world. In recent speeches, Garcia stated he would not hesitate to close the Congress if his projects were opposed.

Nowadays, Alan Garcia is the major name in the Peruvian Aprista Party (A.P.R.A), the legendary left-wing party created by Haya de la Torre at the beginning of the 20th century. A.P.R.A., which has been considered the best-structured left-wing party in the Americas by political specialists and analysts, is presently experiencing a recovery. Its decline began at the end of Alan Garcia's last government, who allowed the country to sink into a deep economic and political crisis, without any control on the mythical 'Sendero Luminoso', the Maoist faction of Abimael Guzman. The sequence of failures in the parliamentary elections showed that A.P.R.A. depended exclusively on its historical legacy for future support.

The Appearance of Humala

This year's presidential elections were characterised by some surprising dynamics. Valentim Paniágua and Lourdes Flores started as the favourite candidates, while the image of previous administrative failure tormented Alan Garcia before the electorate. The appearance of Ollanta Humala was crucial for Garcia's victory. Ollanta Humala was an electoral phenomenon for a number of reasons:

1. The populist-nationalist speech replaced the old "leftist" speech which attracted the votes of poorer classes.

2. The victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia brought about the image of Humala as a liberator of the Peruvian aboriginal people. An indigenous electoral success was made plausible by the victory of Morales.

3. The charisma of Hugo Chávez amongst the poorer classes benefited Humala´s political support in the beginning of the electoral process, but weakened in its final moments, because Chávez was seen to have intervened in the Peruvian elections.

4. Humala´s opponents concentrated their campaign in Lima, leaving a gap in rural areas - poorer regions that had not been approached enough by the other candidates.

Why Humala lost

These factors brought Humala to a condition of apparent electoral supremacy. However, his radical position polarised opinions about him. He was the 'marmite candidate' - the voters either 100% supported or rejected him. There was no halfway house. This polarisation created a niche to be fought for between Lourdes Flores, Alan Garcia and Valentim Paniágua. What set Garcia apart, in this battle to be Humala's main opponent, was his attacks against Hugo Chávez for his intrusion in Peruvian domestic affairs. This strategy worked well, spoiling Humala´s image.

In the end of the first round, Humala won, coming just four percent above Garcia, who defeated Lourdes Flores by only one percent. Paniagua came was just behind Flores. This four way split practically guaranteed the final victory of Alan Garcia.

In the second round it was easier for Garcia to attract the votes of Lourdes Flores and Valentim Paniagua. Despite Garcia´s last government being disastrous for Peru, the idea of having Humala in charge provoked even more apprehension. Most voters of Flores and Paniagua therefore migrated to Garcia or simply annulled their votes. Humala was only able to attract the votes of those people who deeply rejected the first government of Alan Garcia. In the end of the first round, it became clear that any opponent of Humala would win the second round.

The New Government

The new government of Alan Garcia will last until 2011. It will be a government of opposition to Hugo Chávez and Morales, but it will not be similar to the Colombian social democrat, Alvaro Uribe. Populism is an intrinsic characteristic of Garcia that, allied to his economic thought, may well isolate him within the continent. Garcia supports the intervention of the state in the economics of the country, but also encourages investment. It is still not clear whether these two forces are compatible under his leadership. To govern, Garcia will have to make arrangements with other parties, including Humala´s party, which occupies the majority of the seats in Congress. Despite stating that he would dissolve Congress in case his projects were not approved, he will not dare to adopt such a radical position at the beginning of his government. If the Congress does block his projects, he will simply behave in a populist and inefficient way, letting things slide to maintain public opinion among the poor.

During Garcia´s government, we can expect that the economic growth experienced by the country will lose ground due to the lack of confidence on the part of some investors. The Free Trade Treaty that was being arranged by Alejandro Toledo should be maintained and will provide important fuel for the economy. Garcia's regional policy will consist of verbal confrontations with Chávez, but it shouldn't bring Peru to the position of a protagonist on the stage of South American external politics.