The result of the presidential elections in Peru, held on Sunday, April 11, 2021, has generated a huge surprise for most political analysts. Until a week ago, almost no forecast envisioned having a party that defines itself as a socialist left contesting the second round. The presidential candidate for the Peru Libre political party, Pedro Castillo Terrones, managed to secure his pass with a slight but considerable advantage over the other competing candidates. With 85% of the records processed, the office of electoral processes of Peru (ONPE) places Castillo in the first place with 18.5% of the votes; he is followed by the extreme right candidate Keiko Fujimori with 13.19% and the ultraliberal economist Hernando de Soto with 12.1%.
The fragmentation of the right-wing vote has been one of the main characteristics of this atypical election. In addition to Keiko Fujimori and Hernando de Soto, the ultra-conservative candidate of the popular renewal party, Rafael López Aliaga, achieved a not inconsiderable 12.7%. In previous elections, the Peruvian right appeared less dispersed and concentrated its voters on no more than 2 strong candidates. This fact is, in part, an expression of the intense inter-bourgeois struggle that the Andean country has experienced in recent years and which explains, for example, the difficulties of consensus between the executive branch and the congress that led to the departure of three presidents on last year. The emergence of new business groups with the capacity and resources to dispute power quotas among themselves, but keeping intact the neoliberal institutional framework that allowed them to grow, is an unavoidable element to understand the existence of several candidates with similar programs and, nevertheless, dissimilar interests.
The Peruvian left also appeared fragmented to the contest. Far from being a surprise, it was something relatively predictable for those who closely followed the negotiations around the possibility of having a common candidacy. The two main left-wing parties, Peru Libre and Juntos por el Perú, together with social movements and smaller political groups, began conversations in 2019 with a view to future electoral processes. That attempt, however, did not come to fruition. Both groups stood separately in the 2020 congressional elections, as well as in the last electoral process. The reasons for this fact lie, to a large extent, in the accusations of corruption against Vladimir Cerrón and in his subsequent sentence for the crime of incompatible negotiation on the grounds of having favored a company in the public bidding process for the realization of work when he was governor of the Junín region.
The judgment against Cerrón, although important, does not explain the differences between Juntos por el Perú and Perú Libre. Before that, there were different tactical decisions in the way of doing politics. Although the complaint against the leader of Peru Libre was quite credible, it cannot be certain that political factors did not influence his sentence. Everything indicates that the departure of Together for Peru responds more directly to their option to contest the electorate of the center and center-left. Throughout the last campaign, they moderated their proposals both economically and politically and made a strenuous effort to explain the technical viability of their government plan in front of exacerbated liberals who serve as interviewers on the main television channels. This decision did not yield the expected results as the progressive political group finished in sixth place with just 7.8%.
Peru Libre, on the other hand, maintained its openly rebellious position throughout the campaign. With much less media exposure, the candidate of the said party would prioritize visiting the poorest cities in the interior of the country, leaving aside large urban centers such as the capital. Everything indicates that its growth was due to that ant work and the maintenance of a discourse that combines anti-systemic positions and a strongly nationalist imprint. Although Peru Libre defines itself as socialist and vindicates the progressive Latin American experiences; its candidate, Pedro Castillo, has had openly conservative positions regarding individual freedoms. In several statements, he was against equal marriage and claimed to be “pro-life and pro-family.” These positions should be qualified, because at the programmatic level their political group maintains that, ultimately, all these proposals will be deliberated in a “Constituent Assembly with popular participation.”
Castillo’s irruption left many analysts dislodged. His rise must be understood in terms of the fatigue of the majority of Peruvian workers in the face of an economic crisis unprecedented economics and a health emergency that does not seem to have a solution in sight. The enormous gap between the large urban centers and the interior regions of the country largely explains the confusion generated by its passage to the second round among the Peruvian middle and upper classes. Everything indicates that the forces of the right will unify their forces to fight Peru Libre and everything that its political project represents.
All progressive forces must be oriented in the same direction. After a 30-year long neoliberal night, Peru could have for the first time a democratically elected left-wing candidate for president. The firm political decision to change the Fujimori political constitution of 1993 indicates that if Castillo wins, important changes will come in economic and political matters. All this is an international scenario of profound transformations and geopolitical rearrangements due to the growing influence of China in the world.
This totally legitimate enthusiasm should not make us lose sight of the limits of an eventual progressive administration such as the one Castillo could lead. The election of Peru Libre is important only insofar as it allows a considerable improvement in the correlation of forces for the fight against neoliberalism that will inevitably have to develop in the streets, that is, outside the bourgeois institutionality. It is important to emphasize that Peruvian workers must continue fighting for their political class independence, regardless of who is elected in the second electoral round. Defeating the right is, in the current circumstances, seeking better conditions to confront the capitalists as a whole and promote urgent reforms in the face of an unprecedented crisis that kills thousands of Peruvians every day.