PERU’S conservative challenger may have closed the gap in recent days, but socialist candidate Pedro Castillo has sent shockwaves through neoliberal circles in Latin America.
A recent Datum/Gestión/Perú 21 poll ahead of Peru’s second round of voting next month shows Keiko Fujimori on 40 per cent, two points behind Castillo.
Regardless, it’s remarkable that Castillo, who was little-known before his surprisingly strong performance in April’s first round, has stayed on top for this long.
Alberto Posso, Director of the Centre for International Development at RMIT University, told Redaction Report that the schoolteacher managed to emerge as the leftist champion due to his “radical” agenda that resonated with the Peruvian working class.
“Castillo’s rhetoric is plausibly seen as the most radical by many voters,” he said.
“This may have attracted a lot of voters looking for change.”
It makes sense that the pandemic, which has led to more than 66,000 deaths among a population of just 32 million, sparked unrest among voters during the past year or so.
Along with an economy where two million people have dipped below the poverty line, Professor Posso said, it means a “populist leftist rhetoric is likely to resonate with those afflicted by these issues.”
Centre-left and socialist parties tallied significantly more votes than their centre-right counterparts, with Popular Action and Veronika Mendoza’s Together for Peru both garnering over one million of the electorate in the first round.
But Castillo’s young party and grassroots background (as a schoolteacher) may have cast him in the positive light of a non-politician, propping him above his ideological allies.
“Peruvians have been dissatisfied with the government’s handling of things, so outsiders would naturally become more attractive,” Professor Posso said.
“Aside from this factor, Peruvians are probably very tired of corruption scandals. As you know, four former presidents have faced prosecution for corruption.
“An outsider is likely to be seen as attractive to anyone dissatisfied with established parties.”
Castillo’s Free Peru party, formed in 2016, won just over 500,000 votes in last year’s Congressional elections, yielding zero seats. Last month they achieved over three times that, and now dominate Congress with 37 seats.
It forms part of the ‘Pink Tide’ currently sweeping Latin America – something that terrifies those who formed the Conservative counter-wave of the 2010s.
And though Castillo looks like he will edge next month’s election, centre-left voters may be torn between Fujimori’s neoliberalism and Castillo’s socialism. If he wins, Castillo is likely to strengthen relations with the likes of Cuba, Venezuela and any other socialist nations that make up the red continent. Fearing this, voters could opt for the ‘safer’ option.
Professor Posso said: “I would imagine that a lot of people in the centre in Peru are very worried about Castillo’s Maduro-style promises.
“Indeed, Peruvians, as most Latin Americans, are generally terrified of the debacle caused by leftist populists in the region.
“Many people in the centre will be worried about Peru following the footsteps of Venezuela and as such are likely to Vote for Fujimori.
“To be clear, she’s likely to receive the vote because she’s not Castillo rather than because of who she is.”
It’s a 51-year-old teacher against the right-wing daughter of the country’s 1990s autocrat – but the race is still too close to call going into next month.
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