Disinformation, denials and disillusionment: Welcome to elections in Peru

By Walter Finch

MANY Latin American elections over the past year have been grievously afflicted by Covid-19 – but the familiar global spectre of the far-right appears to have added to Peru’s misery.

Amid a proliferation of online disinformation and ‘fake news’, it appears the South American nation will have a president who, just two weeks before the election, struggled to command the support of a tenth of the electorate.

While incumbent Martín Vizcarra was impeached last November, the latest polls from Ipsos Peru shows no party breaching above 9.8 percent of the vote.

Peru is riven not just by the perennial issues of constant, widespread and structural corruption, nor a Covid-19 pandemic that saw an economic contraction of 12.9 per cent and the second highest per capita death rate in the world, nor a five-year political war between Congress and the executive branch that has toppled the previous two presidents.

Polls indicate that the most popular response on the ballot paper will be blank / null, as the electorate is simply tired and disillusioned not just with all the accumulated problems, but with the political class themselves.

The country is poised to go to the polls on April 11 with a law which makes it obligatory to vote – with fines for those who do not – and if no candidate receives an outright majority, the top two tickets will proceed to a run-off on June 6. Far-right Rafael López Aliaga is a close fourth in the running, meaning he could sneak into the second round.

“The people feel the politicians no longer serve them and that politics only functions at election time,” Marylía Paola Cruz Sarmiento, a political scientist from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú told Redaction Politics

There are 20 candidates for the elections, of which six have a reasonable chance of reaching the June 6 run-off.

Sarmiento added: “But after five years of constant crisis, 27 per cent of the electorate do not wish to vote at all.

“They don’t feel represented by any of these 20 candidates, let alone by one of the six who might win.”

Leading the way are three candidates roughly tied with a meagre ten per cent of the vote each; Yonhy Lescano, running on a left-leaning populist platform, Verónika Mendoza who is the most progressive of the field, and Rafael López Aliaga.

Rafael López Aliaga has been a beneficiary of much of the disinformation polluting social media and the electoral environment, which has focused on attacking the left-wing candidates. 

One TikTok account uploaded an old video which purported to show candidate Verónika Mendoza as a supporter of forbidden organisation The Shining Path in her youth, while Yonhy Lescano was accused of falsifying his university credentials. 

Both allegations are false, but Lescano has seen the lead he held previously evaporate in recent weeks.

Much of the disinformation has been picked up and augmented by the competing politicians themselves, with a few backtracking apologies subsequently forthcoming. 

And with both the previous two presidents being forced out under dark clouds of corruption charges, it is easy to see how the electorate have become disillusioned.

“The people have the feeling that the state does not function properly because there is corruption in every corner of it,” Sarmiento explained. 

“The problem is structural. When one candidate says I won’t be linked with corruption, it’s not credible.

“Congress continually has cases of corruption also. It’s not just one entity; it’s the executive, Congress and many different areas.”

However, when the inevitable run-off arrives on June 6, one of the candidates will be crowned president, no matter how many blank / null ballots turn up in the count.

Featured Image: Ministerio de Defensa del Perú @ Flickr

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