With the first round of Peruvian presidential elections behind us and the country headed for a run-off, we go back to a unique conversation between Duke’ Patrick Duddy and four Peruvian grads from the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Fuqua School of Business. The virtual event took place before the April 11 first round, where no candidate got more than 50% votes. The run-off between the top two candidates is scheduled on June 6, 2021.
By Jennifer Prather
In the run-up to Peru’s fraught presidential election on April 11 in which 18 candidates vied for a job that has become more and more short-term in the past five years, four Duke graduate students from Peru offered their perspectives on why this election has so many Latin Americanists concerned.
Patrick Duddy, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, and current director of Duke’s Center for Latin American Studies, moderated the discussion on March 30 between four Duke graduate students, three of whom are masters or PhD candidates in the Sanford School of Public Policy, Flavia Connearn, Jessica Maeda, and Renzo Severino, and Giovanni Lu, MBA candidate in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke.
The event, “A Crash Course on Peru’s Politics and Upcoming Election,” was sponsored by the Duke University Center for International & Global Studies, International House, Polis: Center for Politics at the Sanford School of Public Policy, and the Duke University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
Whichever candidate wins in the run-off between the top two candidates, they will face some serious issues, Duddy said. An economy that has previously enjoyed substantial growth in the 21st century contracted by more than 11% over the past year. The coronavirus brought the economy to a halt at times during 2020 and seems to be surging again.
On top of that, Peru has accepted approximately one million Venezuelan refugees, and now is suffering shortages of medical supplies, ventilators, and hospital beds.
Politically, the country has been in crisis, as well, with four presidents in the last year.
Every living former president of Peru has been accused of malfeasance and several have been convicted, Duddy said.
“This political churn obviously concerns the nation and has drawn the attention of the rest of the world, but at least to date it has been interesting in part because the political developments did not seem to derail the country’s economic progress,” he said.
“What’s going to be the legitimacy that this president is going to have for the next five years?”
Jessica Maeda said this election, during the 200th year since Peruvian independence, is incredibly important. The president must be able to take on the pandemic which has seriously affected the country and be in charge of an economic recovery, but Peruvians have lost faith with the political class. Political parties are weak, and the leading presidential candidate has only 18 percent support among voters.
“So we are a little bit worried,” Maeda said. “What’s going to be the legitimacy that this president is going to have for the next five years?”
"Public figures are changing positions or even parties constantly"
Giovanni Lu agreed that the weakness of political party positions was confusing to Peruvians and has led to a lack of trust in politics.
“One of the hardest issues to solve right now is not only how to close the gap of information between the population and the information we have around public figures, but it’s also how the public figures are changing positions or even parties constantly,” Lu said.
In the meantime, all Peruvians are seeing in the media is stories about corruption and the crimes committed by politicians, so it is difficult for them to imagine a candidate who is going to form a government that can solve their problems, he said.
“[Peruvians believe] the way to be successful in Peru and to keep growth is by being an entrepreneur, being a hard worker, not getting involved in the dirty business of politics"
Flavia Connearn observed that Peruvian politics does not work like U.S. politics where incumbent candidates and parties have an advantage. Peruvians feel very disconnected to their political leaders after the troubled decades of the 1980s and 90s, and the tabloid media have given the Peruvian political elite a bad image.
“A regular person doesn’t want to be involved in politics,” Connearn said. “[Peruvians believe] the way to be successful in Peru and to keep growth is by being an entrepreneur, being a hard worker, not getting involved in the dirty business of politics, and that has marked our civil society deeply.”
Connearn said the election is important because the common view is that the last five years have been lost completely to political battles and retaliation and that Peru needs to choose a government that will restore institutions and checks and balances on power.
“A lot of people, if you asked them on the street, they don’t see the economic growth reflected in their lives. They just see prices rise while their salaries are the same”
Renzo Severino said fighting corruption is probably the most important issue for Peruvians, but all of the candidates are pledging to stop corruption, so voters do not know who to believe and trust none of them.
Severino said that although GDP growth in Peru has been good in the past, GDP only reflects the formal sector. In Peru, the informal sector accounts for about 80 percent of the economy and these Peruvians have not seen the benefits of economic growth.
“A lot of people, if you asked them on the street, they don’t see the economic growth reflected in their lives. They just see prices rise while their salaries are the same,” he said.
Severino said his top priority for the new government would be to improve education so that the population could better understand the issues facing the country and to have better candidates in the future.
While Maeda and Lu said the question of the legitimacy of the next president was most important to them, Connearn said her top concern was the coronavirus and saving people’s lives.
“We’ve lost too many and we’re honestly a grieving country, and some of the things related to the pandemic that candidates say are just open lies,” she said. “They have no respect for science or real policymaking, so that’s the first priority for me.”