Peru: April general elections set to produce tight presidential race and fragmented Congress
March 15, 2021
On 11 April, Peru goes to the polls to elect both a new president and the 130 members of Congress. Recent opinion polls paint a divided picture: None of the 18 presidential candidates holds more than 12% of the prospective vote—making a runoff between the top two candidates in June highly likely—while congressional voting intentions point to a highly fragmented Congress. Moreover, rejection rates for the top presidential candidates range from 40–70%, indicating the electorate is more certain about who they will not vote for than for who they will, while nearly a third of voters express no preference for any candidate running for the presidency. In any case, the next government will be charged with restoring public faith in government, while also dealing with the ongoing fallout of one of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 in the region.
The general election comes amid a scandal-ridden few months, even for a country as inured to political drama as Peru. Last November saw a bout of political unrest, resulting in President Martín Vizcarra’s removal from office, before his replacement—former head of Congress Manuel Merino—bowed to widespread public protests and resigned six days later. Francisco Sagasti then became the country’s third president within a week and will hand over power following the outcome of April’s elections. More recently, former President Vizcarra was implicated in scandal when nearly 500 current and past public officials took advantage of their position to gain early access to Covid-19 vaccines, while a number of candidates in the running for the presidency have been investigated for various corruption charges.
Nevertheless, the frontrunners for the top office appear to be Yonhy Lescano (Acción Popular) and Verónika Mendoza (Juntos por el Perú) on the left of the political spectrum, and George Forsyth (Victoria Nacional), Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular) and Rafael López Aliaga (Renovación Popular) on the right. A likely fractured Congress will make governability difficult, meaning there should not be any large-scale shift in the prevailing macroeconomic policy in the short term. However, against the backdrop of the punitive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, populist policies on both sides of the political divide appear to be favored by the electorate, pointing to continued government spending going forward.
Regarding the political outlook, analysts at the EIU commented:
“Interim president Francisco Sagasti has stabilised Peruvian politics after a political crisis last November following the ouster of former president, Martín Vizcarra (2018-20). Despite signing vaccine deals, Mr Sagasti's government is unpopular as rising coronavirus (Covid-19) cases have led to new mobility restrictions. No clear frontrunner has emerged for the April general election, but we expect a centrist will win and the next administration will continue Peru's orthodox economic policies.”
Author: Stephen Vogado, Economist