Category Archives: Peru

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

This is a guest post by Fernando Meireles, Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). E-mail:

In many countries, presidents have a difficult time governing because their parties lack a legislative majority. In fact, because of the combination of separate elections for executive and legislative branches with multiparty systems, this situation is far from uncommon: during the last two decades in all 18 Latin American countries with presidential systems, only 26% of the time has the president’s party had a majority in the lower house. Due to this constraint, as a vast amount of research now highlights, minority presidents usually form multiparty government coalitions by including other parties in their cabinets. Again, only four Latin American presidential countries in the last twenty years were not governed by a multiparty coalition at some point since the 1980s.

However, the need to craft a legislative majority alone does not explain why presidents frequently include more parties in their governments than necessary to obtain a minimum winning coalition – forming what I call an oversized government coalition. The distribution of this type of coalition in Latin America is shown in the graph below. As can be seen, it is not a rare phenomenon.

If government coalitions are costly to maintain, as presidents have to keep tabs on their coalition partners to ensure they are not exploiting their portfolios to their own advantage – not to mention the fact that by splitting spoils and resources between coalition partners, the president’s own party is worse off – then why are these oversized coalitions prevalent in some Latin American countries?

In a recent article in Brazilian Political Science Review, I tackled this puzzle by analyzing the emergence of oversized government coalitions in all 18 presidential countries in Latin America[1], followed by a case study focusing on Brazil, spanning from 1979 to 2012. To this end, I gathered data on cabinet composition[2] from several sources to calculate the size of each government coalition in the sample: if a coalition had at least one party that could be removed without hampering the majority status of the government in the lower house in a given year, I classified it as an oversized coalition.

Specifically, I examined three main factors that, according to previous research, should incentivize presidents to include more parties in their coalitions than necessary to ensure majority support: 1) the motivation party leaders have to maximize votes, which would make joining the government attractive to opposition parties (vote-seeking); 2) the motivation presidents have to avoid coalition defections to implement their policy agendas (policy-seeking); and 3) the institutional context, considering the effects of bicameralism, qualified majority rules, and party system format on government coalition size.

The results support some of the hypothesis suggested by the literature. First, presidents are more prone to form oversized coalitions at the beginning of their terms, which shows that the proximity to the election affects Latin American presidents’ decision to form, and opposition parties to accept being part of, large coalitions – as others studies argue, this is mainly due to parties defecting from a coalition to present themselves as opposition when elections are approaching. Second, party fragmentation also has a positive effect on the emergence of oversized coalitions, consistent with the hypothesis that presidents might include additional parties in their coalitions anticipating legislative defections. Yet on the other hand, presidential approval, party discipline, and ideological polarization do not have the same positive effects on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

The factor that has the most impact on the occurrence of oversized coalitions, however, is the legislative powers of the president. As the literature points out, legislative decrees and urgency bills could be used by skilled presidents to coordinate their coalitions, facilitating horizontal bargaining between coalition partners. The comparative results show that this is the case in Latin America: the difference in the predicted probability of a president with maximum legislative powers in the sample forming an oversized coalition and another with minimum powers is about 32 percent points.

By exploring the Brazilian case in more depth, I also found that bicameralism dynamics and qualified majority rules impact the emergence of oversized coalitions. With two chambers elected through different electoral rules, parties in Brazil are often unable to secure the same seat share in both houses; to make things worse for presidents, party switching is still widespread in the country. In this context, as my results uncovered, differences in the number of seats controlled by the government in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate positively affect the emergence of oversized coalitions. Finally, as some bills require supermajorities to be approved, such as constitutional amendments, reformist presidents also tend to form and maintain larger coalitions: the maximum value in this variable predicts increases by up to 10 percentage points on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

Taken together, these results show a more nuanced picture of why and how presidents form multiparty government coalitions in Latin America: often, obtaining a legislative majority is not enough to implement their legislative agendas, and so they might resort to a complementary strategy: to form larger coalitions. And presidents with greater legislative power, at the beginning of their terms or facing fragmented party systems, are in the best position to pursue such a strategy. In this way, both electoral and programmatic factors, as well as the institutional context, become key to understand variations in the size and the composition of government coalitions in presidential countries.


[1] These countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[2] The criteria employed to identify a government coalition is the party affiliation of the ministers of the principal ministerial portfolios in each country – taking into account that ministers are not always recruited due to their connections or their congressional influence, and that in some cases they are not recognized by their parties as legitimate representatives of the same.

Peru – Peru Offers Reward for Arrest of Former President Toledo

One of the topics I return to most on this blog is probably corruption and specifically, corruption in the president’s office. The last number of years has witnessed a veritable landslide of corruption cases by those occupying the highest political office across Latin America. Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. Another former Guatemalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, is currently in Matamoros prison in Guatemala City, serving a sentence for receiving bribes from importers. In El Salvador, evidence emerged linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, has appeared in court to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in. In Mexico, Angélica Rivera, the wife of president Enrqiue Peña Nieto, has become embroiled in a scandal concerning a mansion she purchased in 2012, and Grupo Higa, a government contractor. In Peru, questions have been raised about the manner in which former president, Ollanta Humala, funded his presidential election campaigns in 2006 and 2011. And of course most famously, only last year, Dilma Rousseff, the embattled former President of Brazil was forced out of office partly as a consequence of the huge Lavo Jato corruption scandal which engulfed the Brazilian political establishment, which has also involved allegations of kickbacks from the Brazilian construction giant, Odebrecht, to former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Well now it seems the fallout from that crisis is spreading. Apparently, Odebrecht’s chief executive in Peru, Jorge Barata, told Peruvian investigators that Alejandro Toledo, the former president of Peru between 2001 and 2006, received US$20 million in bribes from Odebrecht in return for granting them the contract to build a large road and infrastructure project. Toledo has been under investigation in Peru since 2013, after his mother-in-law supposedly bought a number of expensive houses via offshore companies that seemed to extend significantly beyond the family’s means.

Somewhat ironically, Toledo came to power in 2001 in the tumultuous aftermath of the resignation of Alberto Fujimori, partly by railing against the corruption scandal engulfing Peru at that time following the discovery of videos of Peru’s head of intelligence, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing TV network executives. Toledo was in France when this news broke and is now thought to be in California, where he currently holds a visiting professorship at Stanford University. Peru has now offered a 100,000 soles award (approximately US$30,000) for information leading to his arrest and current Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has asked Donald Trump to arrest and extradite Toledo back to Peru.

But this scandal looks set to explode to other presidencies. Apparently, Obebrecht had a designated department to bribe governments across the world in return for state building contracts. The presidency of Alan García (2006-2011) is now also falling under suspicion, given that Odebrecht won a record number of contracts in Peru during his tenure and allegations have also surfaced that Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, received illegal campaign donations from Obebrecht.

But why such persistent and prevalent cases of corruption in the very highest political offices? Explanations range from the historical development of the state and Guillermo O’Donnell’s infamous ‘brown areas’, to the lack of transparency during the economic reform process of the 1980s and 1990s, to the combination of presidentialism and the PR electoral system, a variant of which most Latin American countries employ.[1] Of course, while this type of graft is a problem in most other regions of the world, what makes the Latin American case particularly interesting is the often very public judicial and legislative battles to bring this wrongdoing to heel. It seems likely that the Obebrecht case is only going to inspire more of these.

[1] See For example, some of the chapters in Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbó (eds.) 1996. Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan or Jana Kunicová and Susan Rose-Ackerman. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science, 35: 573-606.

Peru – Former President Ollanta Humala to be Included in Campaign Financing Investigation

Once again, I return to the issue of corruption scandals at the level of the executive office. It was announced last week that a public prosecutor would be including Ollanta Humala, the former Peruvian president who finished his five-year term on the 28th of July this year, in a long and ongoing investigation into campaign financing and electoral donations. This investigation had up till now largely centred around Humala’s wife and former first lady, Nadine Heredia.

The investigation of the prosecutor, Germán Juárez, revolves around money raised by Ollanta Humala to fund his presidential election campaigns in 2006 and 2011. There has long been allegations that Heredia, as President of the Partido Nacionalista Peruano, received and hid donations from the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, and a number of Brazilian construction companies, which were then used to finance the campaigns of her left-leaning husband. Only this year, Heredia was prohibited from leaving Peru as investigations continue. For Humala, this latest announcement is significant because as of July this year, he can no longer enjoy presidential immunity, although activities during his presidency are still protected. However, such immunity does not apply to activities during the 2006 election.

This investigation is partly a product of Humala’s own admissions, when he stated that Heredia was only doing what she was ordered to do by Humala, as head of the party, but it also stems from information supposedly contained in a number of notebooks owned by Nadine Heredia, which were given to public prosecutors by former party members. These notebooks are alleged to document millions in campaign donations that remained unreported and which were funneled through personal bank accounts. The prosecutor has asked the judiciary for access to Humala’s domestic and international banking and tax records from his time in office, currently protected by Peruvian law. Ollanta Humala denies all of these allegations and claims that they are the product of political opportunism.

I keep coming back to this topic, but why do we often witness so many corruption scandals related to the highest political office across the region? The allegations against former president Humala, would appear to echo the explanation of Kurt Weyland; he argued that the last two decades have seen the emergence of personalistic leaders who have sought to bypass established political parties in order to reach “the people” through direct and often televised appeals. This can build a new loyal following, but it is also expensive and for these outsiders, the incentive to engage in ‘irregular’ campaign financing to boost coffers which cannot be filled through traditional party and donor networks, is often quite large.[1] Humala is the prototypical outsider. He was a former army officer who rose to prominence during the 2006 elections when he was somewhat scathing of exiting political elites. He only established his political party in 2005, the year before his first electoral bid.

Of course, it is also possible that we are not necessarily witnessing an increase in corruption scandals at the executive level, but rather an increase in the ability of judiciaries across the region to hold current and former presidents to account.

[1] Kurt Weyland. 1998. The Politics of Corruption in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 9 (2): 108-121.

Chris O’Connell – Late Turnaround in Peruvian Presidential Election Gifts Presidency to Kuczynski

This is a guest post by Chris O’Connell, PhD candidate in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University

Barring an unlikely result from the remaining three per cent of votes yet to be counted, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski will become the next President of Peru, thereby completing a remarkable comeback. Yet Kuczynski (or ‘PPK’ as he is known), can count himself exceedingly lucky: not only did he claim victory by the narrowest of margins imaginable over his rival Keiko Fujimori, but the final week’s dramatic turnaround had little to do with his own performance.

The results to hand with 97 per cent of the votes counted give Kuczynski 50.15 per cent of the vote to Fujimori’s 49.85 per cent – a winning margin of 0.3 per cent. Put another way, the presidency of a country with a population over 30 million has been decided by a mere fifty thousand votes. The remaining votes to be counted comprise citizens living abroad along with some districts of the south, both of which are expected to favour PPK.

As I wrote previously in this blog, the first round of voting in Peru’s presidential election witnessed a series of dramatic events including the dubious exclusion of two strong candidates – Cesar Acuña and Julio Guzman – and the re-constitution of the left, primarily in the guise of the Broad Front’s candidate, Veronika Mendoza. Nevertheless, the results gave us two familiar faces – Kuczynski and Fujimori – in the run-off vote.

Fujimori was the clear winner of the first round with 40 per cent of the vote, giving her a strong lead over PPK, who managed a mere 21 per cent. In spite of this large margin, Kuczynski and his supporters could take comfort from comparative data which shows that of the 44 run-off elections in Latin America between 1978 and 2015, 11 were won by the runner-up in the first round[i]. Peruvian examples of such reversals also exist, such as Alan Garcia’s victory over Ollanta Humala in 2006[ii], and indeed the initial triumph of Alberto Fujimori in 1990. Neither, however, faced anything like the deficit confronting PPK.

As outlined in my previous blog, the challenge for Kuczynski in the second round was twofold: to garner a significant amount of the leftist and anti-establishment votes that went to Mendoza and others; and to effectively present himself as the “anti-Fujimori” candidate. But opinion polls carried out just a week before the election uniformly giving a six-point lead for Keiko indicated that he was failing on both fronts. Significantly, those polls also showed that over 13 per cent of the electorate had yet to decide which way to vote.

Perhaps PPK’s inability to connect with Mendoza’s base was not a surprise. As a former Wall Street banker and World Bank economist he is inextricably linked to Peru’s existing neoliberal economic model; and as a former Prime Minister and Economics Minister, he is also closely associated with the political establishment. His seeming inability to tap into the strong public sentiment of ‘anti-fujimorismo’ – encapsulated by his diffident performance in the first presidential debate – was harder to explain.

But both these elements were to swing firmly in Kuczynski’s favour in the final week of the campaign, even if his own part in them was arguably the least significant. Nonetheless, a notably more aggressive performance in the second debate coupled with a series of attacks on ‘fujimorismo’ gave his campaign a much-needed injection of energy.

But it is likely that events over which he had no control played an even greater role in handing victory to Kuczynski. Galvanised by the apparent inevitability of a Keiko victory, the twin currents of leftism and ‘anti-fujimorismo’ were channeled into support for PPK. A huge national protest on May 31st by the ‘Keiko no va!’ (Keiko no way!) campaign coincided with a message on You Tube from Mendoza, urging her supporters in both Spanish and Quechua to support Kuczynski as the only way to halt Fujimori.

A review of the geographic spread of votes indicates that this support played a significant role in deciding the presidency. Kuczynski’s success in the south of Peru – including a thumping victory in Mendoza’s home state of Cuzco – along with victory in the anti-mining hot spot of Cajamarca, are clear evidence that PPK benefited from the left-leaning votes that had gone to Mendoza and others in the first round.

Equally significant was the succession of scandals which encircled Fujimori’s Popular Force party in the final weeks of the campaign. The revelation that the party’s general secretary, Joaquin Ramirez, was under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for alleged money-laundering and drug offences, while harmful, did not at first appear to fatally damage Keiko’s campaign. Attempts by her running-mate Jose Chlimper to discredit those charges by releasing audio tapes that were proven to have been doctored, however, served to widen and prolong the scandal.

The nature of the allegations and attempted cover-up undoubtedly evoked memories of the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Keiko’s father Alberto in the minds of many voters. Furthermore, Keiko’s reluctance to distance herself from either man (although Ramirez was eventually suspended), or to clearly answer questions about her campaign finances, threw doubt on her claims to have cut ties to the past and forged a new, democratic party. Instead PPK was belatedly able to accuse the party of planning to turn Peru into a ‘narco-state’.

Regardless of how it came about, this victory nonetheless represents a stunning turnaround, and a shocking defeat for Fujimori[iii]. Nevertheless, it does appear that this was an election not so much won by Kuczynski as handed to him by a combination of Mendoza’s instrumental support and Fujimori’s shortcomings. This in turn will have considerable implications for the incoming government.

PPK will assume the presidency with the narrowest of mandates, with a polarised electorate and facing an array of political obstacles. In particular, the presence of a huge ‘fujimorista’ bloc in Congress, where they hold 73 of the 130 seats, appears to hold out the possibility of executive-legislative deadlock. Kuczynski’s own party hold just 18 seats, forcing him to seek support from others.

Mendoza’s message, however, makes it clear that the support from the Broad Front was purely to stop Fujimori, and PPK is unlikely to be able to continue counting on those ‘borrowed’ votes. The kind of political and environmental reforms sought by Mendoza’s party are unlikely to be looked upon favourably by highly influential business and mining lobbies that have provided backing to his candidacy[iv].

Another option for PPK is to forge some kind of coalition with Fujimori’s Popular Force party. A deal with the ‘fujimoristas’ comes with its own set of political risks, and would appear counter-intuitive given how decisive the anti-Fujimori vote proved in getting him elected. That path risks a popular backlash as well as strengthening a resurgent left.

But if the recent political history of Peru teaches us anything is that electoral promises are quickly forgotten. Furthermore, the similarities between the offerings of PPK and Fujimori are striking, with both favouring the continuance of the existing economic model, including its dependence on mining. Indeed, part of the problem for Kuczynski during the second-round campaign came from differentiating his programme from that of his rival.

Thus the most likely outcome is that PPK will follow the path of his immediate predecessors in combining continuity in the economic sphere with low public approval and deepened disenchantment with the political game.


[i] See article from Daniel Zovatto at the Brookings Institute, available online at:

[ii] McClintock, Cythia, 2006. “An Unlikely Comeback in Peru.” Journal of Democracy Vol. 17.4.

[iii] The near-catatonic reaction of political analyst Ricardo Vasquez Kunze live on TV Peru has been cited as an example of the shock felt by some.

[iv] See articles by Francisco Durand regarding the political influence of the business lobby: Durand (2002) “Business and the Crisis of Peruvian Democracy” Business and Politics Vol. 4.3; Durand (2010) “Empresarios a la Presidencia” Nueva Sociedad Vol. 225.

Chris O’Connell is a PhD candidate in politics at Dublin City University, where he has lectured on Latin American politics. He holds a BCL from University College Cork, and an MA in Development from DCU. Currently he is writing his doctoral thesis on the influence of civil society on populist presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. His research interests centre on the politics of development in Latin America.

Chris O’Connell – In Peru A Dramatic Election Ends With A Predictable Result

The first round of voting in Peru’s presidential election ended in the result that many commentators had long predicted: a run-off vote between two familiar faces in Peruvian politics: Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. While the final result may have been foreseeable, the events leading up to it – which included the questionable exclusion of two candidates, the (possible) return of the left, a transnational protest movement, and a significant intervention from a prison cell – were a constant source of surprise.

The result itself saw the established front-runner, Keiko Fujimori, garner 40 per cent of the vote, insufficient to avoid a run-off contest. Keiko is of course the daughter of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori, for whom she acted as First Lady in the 1990s. Keiko ran for the presidency herself in 2011, losing out to incumbent Ollanta Humala in a run-off. The runner-up with 21 per cent was former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, another who also ran in 2011. Kuczynski, or ‘PPK’ as he is known, served as both prime minister and Minister of Economy and Finance in the government of President Alejandro Toledo.

The result, however, is only one part of the story of this election. David Doyle has written previously in this blog about the controversy over alleged plagiarism involving a leading candidate in the election, Cesar Acuña. In the end, Peru’s national elections committee did disqualify Acuña, but on the basis of breaching a law that outlaws the making of payments in return for votes, a charge the Alliance for Progress candidate denies. A similar allegation against Keiko Fujimori for handing out prizes at a dance competition was not upheld, however.

Even more controversial was the subsequent removal of another candidate, Julio Guzman, this time due to technical irregularities in the registration of his candidacy. The dubious exclusion of Guzman – a former Inter-American Development Bank economist who had risen to second in the polls – attracted widespread international condemnation. Nevertheless, appeals by both Acuña and Guzman proved fruitless, leading The Economist to describe the electoral process as a “dangerous farce”.

The logical beneficiary of the exclusion of Guzman, was his fellow economist Kuczynski. Indeed polling in the immediate aftermath of the decision indicated that PPK had increased his vote share by over ten per cent, pushing him into second place. Rather than build on this stroke of luck, Kuczynski’s numbers stalled, then declined. While this may be explained to some degree by what is viewed as a lacklustre campaign, it also highlights a recurring trend in Peruvian politics: the desire for change.

An opinion poll carried out by the Catholic University’s Institute of Public Opinion (IOP) on the eve of the election demonstrates that the clamour for alternatives not only remained strong but even grew since 2011. According to the survey, 76 per cent of the electorate favour a change to the prevailing neoliberal economic model. Of those, 40 per cent desire “radical changes”, up from 33 per cent in 2011. Furthermore, the same poll indicates that 52 per cent of Peruvians favour increased state intervention, a ten per cent increase from five years earlier.

This data must be considered in the wider regional context. Scholars of Latin American populism have identified certain permissive conditions for its emergence, among them a weak, inchoate political party system, and an absence of faith in political institutions. A further contributory factor, according to Barr, is the location of a candidate with regard to the political establishment.[i] These candidates are typically referred to as ‘outsiders’, but may also be described as ‘populist’ or ‘anti-establishment’.

Peruvian politics appears to meet the criteria for the emergence of outsider candidates. While there is widespread distrust in politicians and political parties across Latin America[ii], Peru routinely achieves among the lowest rankings in the region. Furthermore, as scholars such as John Crabtree, Steven Levitsky and Maxwell Cameron have written, Peru’s party system is particularly weak and fragmented[iii].

In other words, political space exists for a candidate from outside the establishment to tap into the strong public desire for change. Both Acuña and Guzman succeeded in capturing this support, albeit briefly, before their respective exclusions. Their absence opened up the field for other candidates in the same mould. In the case of this election, that meant Alfredo Barnechea and, in particular, Veronika Mendoza.

Elected to Congress in 2011 for Humala’s ‘Peru Wins’ party, Mendoza broke away in 2012 due to opposition to the government’s stance on mining. Peru’s economy depends disproportionately on its mineral wealth, and the mining lobby exerts significant political influence. Mendoza helped form a leftist party, the Broad Front, which campaigned on a platform of social reform, and increased State control over natural resources. Analysts, however, gave Mendoza little chance of success, with polls conducted a month before the election giving her little over seven per cent support.

The situation changed dramatically in the weeks before the election. While Mendoza undoubtedly benefited from the exclusion of Acuña and Guzman, her rise arguably owed more to the effectiveness of her campaign, which contrasted with that of Kuczynski. Taking a leaf from the populist playbook, Mendoza criss-crossed the country holding rallies and personally connecting with voters. Mendoza’s discourse, however, was far from populist, as she maintained a coherent left-wing message. This was allied to a moderate public persona, even in the face of media attacks[iv].

Despite having all of the momentum in the last weeks of the campaign, Mendoza ultimately fell short, receiving 19 per cent of the vote. This can be explained by a number of factors, all of which are recurring themes in Peruvian politics. The first concerns the role of the media, which many on the left in particular consider guilty of right-wing bias. While the control of over 80 per cent of all media by the ‘El Comercio’ group of companies is startling, in the particular context of this election it appears that other factors were more significant.

One such factor is the long-standing issue of divisions within the Peruvian left.[v] The presence on the ballot of the imprisoned candidate of the Direct Democracy party, Gregorio Santos, was especially important. Santos, the former Regional President of the Cajamarca region and anti-mining activist held under preventative detention relating to corruption charges, made a dramatic contribution to the presidential debate from his prison cell. The four percentage points garnered by Santos – had they gone instead to Mendoza – would have been sufficient to edge out Kuczynski.

The remaining factor that militated against Mendoza was the strong strain in Peruvian politics of ‘anti-fujimorismo’ (opposition to Fujimori). The legacy of Fujimori Senior continues to divide Peruvian society, in spite of his ongoing incarceration for a combination of human rights violations and embezzlement.

The run-up to this election saw a series of protests, culminating on the 5th of April with tens of thousands proclaiming ‘Keiko no va!’ (Keiko no way!) in rallies across Peru, as well as in Paris, New York, Rio and Buenos Aires. Kuczynski, aided by polls that named him as the candidate most likely to defeat Keiko in a run-off, appears to have benefited from tactical anti-Fujimori voting, gaining around eight percentage points in the last days of the campaign.

What does all of this mean for the run-off vote, scheduled to take place on the 5th of June? Much will depend on which candidate will be able to attract the mix of left-wing and anti-establishment votes that went to Mendoza, Barnechea and Santos. This will not be easy for either candidate, both of whom are closely associated with not only with neoliberal economic policies, but also the political establishment.

Fujimori is the obvious favourite, having received almost twice as many votes as Kuczynski. Furthermore, Keiko appears to have learned lessons from her failed campaign in 2011. Beginning with a speech at Harvard University in October 2015, Keiko has distanced herself from the “errors” of her father’s regime, and vowed to respect democracy. She has dispensed with several members of her party with close associations to that time, such as Martha Chavez, and pledged not to pardon Fujimori Senior if elected president. We can expect more in way of such moderation in the coming months. Whether it will be enough to convince a further ten per cent of the electorate remains to be seen.

The challenge for Kuczynski is significantly greater, and not only mathematically. Like Keiko, PPK has also been attempting to right the wrongs of his last campaign, appearing in the media to talk up his ‘socialist’ credentials. Kuczynski’s status as the clear preference of powerful business interests, however, will not help him to convince voters that he will bring about fundamental changes.

Instead Kuczynski’s best bet would appear to be to present himself as the ‘non-Fujimori’ candidate. This may well be sufficient to swing the election his way, provided he can avoid glaring gaffes. It would be a considerable boon to Kuczynski if he could bring on board at least some elements of the left. The candidate himself appears to recognize this, as within days of the first round vote Kuczynski had announced plans to meet with Santos.

Nevertheless, Kuczynski faces an uphill battle. A national survey carried out by the IOP in March indicates that crime is overwhelmingly the most pressing issue for citizens across the social spectrum.  While the name ‘Alberto Fujimori’ may hold a variety of mainly negative connotations for social scientists, for many ordinary Peruvians it is synonymous with law and order, a factor which may well give his daughter the edge in June.


[i] See Barr, 2009. “Populists, outsiders and anti-establishment politics.” Party Politics Vol. 15.1.

[ii] See Latinobarómetro Report, 2015.

[iii] See Crabtree, 2010. “Democracy without parties? Some lessons from Peru.” Journal of Latin American Studies Vol. 42.2; Levitsky & Cameron, 2003. “Democracy without parties? Political parties and regime change in Fujimori’s Peru.” Latin American Politics and Society Vol. 45.3.

[iv] Mendoza’s dignified but ruthless decimation of television pundit Aldo Mariátegui particularly stands out.

[v] See Tanaka, 2008. “The Left in Peru: Plenty of Wagons and No Locomotion”, in Jorge G. Castañeda and Marco A. Morales, eds. Leftovers: Tales of the two Latin American lefts.

Chris O’Connell is a PhD candidate in politics at Dublin City University, where he has lectured on Latin American politics. He holds a BCL from University College Cork, and an MA in Development from DCU. Currently he is writing his doctoral thesis on the influence of civil society on populist presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. His research interests centre on the politics of development in Latin America.

Peru – Leading Contender in Presidential Race May be Barred from Running

Last Wednesday, the electoral committee in Peru announced that it might bar one of the leading candidates, César Acuña, from this year’s presidential election, because of allegations that he plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation.

César Acuña completed his doctoral thesis, on education, at the Complutense University of Madrid in 2009. Acuña, an entrepreneur and owner of three private universities in Peru, including the Cesar Vallejo University in Trujillo, has campaigned on a largely populist platform, with some overtures to capital and domestic business. He has argued for increased state intervention, and suggested that the government should impose price controls in key areas such as food, gas and utilities and that the Central Bank should set the exchange rate. Peru’s rate of inflation has been slowly rising and is currently at 4.4 per cent. At the same time, Acuña has tried to stress his market friendliness by highlighting his business credentials.

His campaign has proved popular and one of the more recent polls have him tied for second place with Pedro Pablo Kuczynski with 13 per cent support.

However, last week, Acuña was accused on Twitter by the anthropologist Sandra Rodríguez, of plagiarizing big chunks of his 2009 dissertation. Given his ownership of Peruvian universities and his emphasis on education during the election campaign, this has generated enormous controversy. The newspaper, El Comercio has launched an in-depth investigation and extracts of the thesis are now actively discussed, analyzed and dissected online and on social media.

In response, the Complutense has launched an investigation into any wrongdoing. Now, everyone is awaiting the results of this investigation. If evidence of plagiarism is discovered, than according to the electoral committee, César Acuña could potentially be barred from competing in the upcoming election.

The presidential election is due to be held this April. Ollanta Humala is constitutionally barred from running again, and despite previous alterations of the Peruvian constitution, and unlike many of his contemporary presidential counterparts in Latin America, President Humala has stated he will respect the constitution and step aside. The current front-runner in the race is Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of currently jailed former president Alberto Fujimori. A 50 per cent majority is needed to avoid a run-off and given Fujimori and Acuña are both appealing to lower income groups, Acuña’s removal from the race could stand to benefit Fujimori and help her avoid a second round run-off.


Peru – Former Minister and Possible Presidential Candidate Charged with Murder

Cabinets in Peru are far from stable and ministers come in and out with such rapidity that it often appears as if there is a revolving door at the end of the cabinet table. Ollanta Humala, the President of Peru, has maintained this tradition, and he has overseen frequent cabinet reshuffles and quite a collection of different prime ministers throughout his time in office. He has also clashed with Congress over ratification of his cabinet ministers.

Now more turmoil has hit the government’s cabinet. Last month, the popular Minister of the Interior, Daniel Urresti, resigned after a series of violent protests in Pichanki over exploration of natural gas and oil in the region. The minister was forced to resign after a twenty-five year old student, Ever Pérez Huamán, was killed in clashes with local police. José Luis Pérez Guadalupe replaced Urresti and for the revolving door of Peruvian cabinets, all appeared to be business as normal.

A few days later, Urresti joined the governing party of the President, the Partido Nacionalista Peruano (the Peruvian Nationalist Party), in a move that was widely interpreted as the beginning of a bid for the presidency in 2016. However, only a few days ago, Urresti was formally charged with the murder of journalist, Hugo Bustios, 26 years ago during the civil conflict in Peru, between the state and the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist guerrilla movement.

Bustios was killed by a grenade in the town of Caretas while investigating human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict. A former soldier who has already been convicted of his involvement in the murder of the journalist accused Urresti, a member of army intelligence at the time, of involvement in the crime. The public prosecutor in the case, Luis Landa, has publicly announced he is seeking a 25-year term for the former minister and possible presidential candidate.

Urresti strenuously denies any wrongdoing, but if convicted, obviously he will be unable to run for the presidency. Regardless, this may well irrevocably damage his political reputation. The administration has suggested that the charges are a political ploy to discredit the Nationalist Party and its potential candidate ahead of next year’s elections.

This all comes at a very bad time for Humala and the Nationalist Party. Public prosecutors have reopened a case, which involves Humala’s wife, Nadine Herrera, and alleged money laundering before the 2011 election. This week, the Prime Minister, Ana Jara, has ben robustly defending the administration and the party against any suggestion of corruption. Legislation has come before the house proposing to reform the electoral system and address campaign corruption, but this is currently languishing on the sidelines. Expect a cabinet reshuffle any day now.

Peru – Congress (finally) ratifies Humala’s new cabinet

Last Tuesday, Peru’s congress approved President Ollanta Humala’s proposed new cabinet.[1] However, this was the third time that Congress voted on this issue, and it was a very close call: 55-54 in favor, with nine abstentions. Somewhat dramatically, Humala’s cabinet was only saved by Ana María Solórzano, the President of Congress, who was the last to vote and tipped the balance in favor of the government.

Humala and his party, Gana Perú, do not have a majority in the legislature, and the government has been relying on the support of a number of smaller parties, primarily comprised of a conservative block of legislators, affiliated with former presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, for their legislative initiatives. However, support for the government has haemorrhaged following the stagnation of the economy, and amidst criticism of prominent members of Humala’s cabinet.

The new cabinet, to be led by Ana Jara Velásquez, only managed to receive approval third time round because the embattled Humala agreed to suspend new rules for private pension funds and withdraw his nominee for the Organization of American States (OAS). The weakness of Humala’s government is evident. This is Humala’s sixth cabinet and his last President of the Council of Ministers was only approved on the third vote. This was the first time in ten years that Congress has refused to ratify the president’s cabinet.

This conflict between the legislative and executive branch provides us with an important insight into the variation in regime type across Latin America. There is a general tendency for people to treat all Spanish-speaking South American democracies (and Brazil) as pure-presidential. This however, is not accurate. At least one democracy in South America is a hybrid regime – Peru. Argentina is a possible second although this is a slightly more contentious case (see this discussion over at the Semi-Presidential One). In fact, Peru is what David Samuels and Matthew Shugart class as ‘president-parliamentary’, that is when the prime minister and the cabinet are dually accountable to the president and assembly majority (p. 30).[2]

The current conflict in Peru revolves around the legislature’s refusal to approve the Presidente del Consejo de Ministros (or President of the Council of Ministers), in this instance, the aforementioned Ana Jara Velásquez. To all intents and purposes, this position is akin to a prime minister, and together with the cabinet is ‘dually accountable’ to the president and Congress. Clearly, given it was ten years since the last time Congress refused to accept the president’s cabinet, this rarely occurs, but that misses the point. It can happen, as constitutionally, the prime minister and cabinet are accountable to the legislature and so this is an important distinction between Peru and pure-presidential regimes, because in the Peruvian case, this confidence vote places Congress in a powerful position, particularly in the context of a weak and unpopular president.

Although Humala has a fixed term, the refusal of Congress to ratify his cabinet further undermines his political legitimacy and weakens his popular support. This leaves Humala looking like a lame duck.

[1] Thanks to John Carey for suggesting this post and highlighting the importance of the confidence vote in Peru.

[2] David Samuels and Matthew Shugart. 2010. How the Separation of Powers Affects Party Organization and Behavior. Cambridge University Press.

Peru – New Prime Minister and Cabinet Reshuffle

Previously on this blog, I have discussed the Peruvian political tradition of frequent cabinet reshuffles. Well, it continues apace. On Monday, the Peruvian Prime Minister, César Villanueva, tendered his resignation in Latin America’s only semi-presidential regime, just four months after his appointment by President Ollanta Humala. Villanueva was Humala’s fourth prime minister since he became President in July 2011, and his resignation this week precipitated yet another reorganization of Humala’s cabinet.

Villanueva’s departure appears to be the result of a disagreement he had with the Finance Minister, Luis Miguel Castilla, over increasing the minimum wage. Last week, Villanueva publicly floated the possibility of the government raising the floor of the minimum wage in Peru, but a couple of days later, Castilla rejected Villanueva’s statement, and insisted the government was not planning any changes to the minimum wage. What is more, the First Lady of Peru, Nadine Heredia, also publicly contradicted Villanueva, and re-iterated Castilla’s denial.

When he arrived in office, Humala, elected on a vaguely left-leaning, economic nationalist platform, raised Peru’s minimum wage to 750 soles (US$268) a month. However, given the recent slow-down in economic growth, and an increasingly unhappy and fractious private sector, particularly the all-important mining industry, an increase in the minimum wage right now would be too politically costly for Humala.

Consequently, Villanueva’s statement received no support from Humala’s inner circle, and he was left with little choice but to tender his resignation. In his stead, Humala has appointed René Cornejo, previously Minister of Housing. Cornejo is Humala’s fifth prime minister.

At the same time, Humala replaced a further seven cabinet ministers. Ana Jara, formerly Minister of Women and Vulnerable Populations became Minister of Labor; Carmen Omonte replaced her. The former Minister of Agriculture, Milton Von Hesse, was made Minister of Housing, while Juan Manuel Benítez Ramos became the new Minister of Agriculture. In addition, Paola Bustamante was appointed Minister of Development and Social Inclusion; and Piero Ghezzi Solis is the new Minister of Production.

Apparently, Luis Miguel Castilla also offered his resignation to Humala this week. Nonetheless, he retains his post, perhaps no surprise given Castilla’s importance as a signal of economic stability and orthodoxy. However, Humala did accept the resignation of Jorge Merino, formerly the Minister of Energy and Mines. Eleodoro Mayorga Alba replaced Merino.