Sunday, April 9, 2006

New York Votes Lourdes!

OK, first of all, I never expected a country like Peru, even with its mandatory voting law, to have any system set up for absentee voting. That being said, I am sure that the hundreds of votes cast by expat Peruvians that lined up in Midtown Manhattan to cast their votes for President today will never be counted. Go figure, they all voted for Lourdes.

To give a little background for those who are new to Peruvian politics, Alejandro Toledo, a *relatively* honest politician who doubled foreign investment, doubled Peru’s exports, and brought macroeconomic stability (growing an average of 5% a year since 2001) to a country with a history of severe hyperinflation, is ending his term as president with a lowly 8% approval rating. [All figures from the New York Times]

For a long time, the main challengers for 2006 were Alan Garcia, the former president who single-handedly caused the hyperinflation crisis of the 1980s, Alberto Fujimori, the Japanese man whose violation of human rights during Peru’s fight against terrorism efforts is only overshadowed by the blatant robbery and corruption of his administration, and Lourdes Flores, a woman whose pro-globalization mentality puts her in the increasingly unpopular position of receiving support from the Bush government.

In the vacuum caused by Peruvians’ sexist apprehension about electing a woman to their highest political office, much less one who is in bed with W, a new frontrunner has emerged: Ollanta Humala. Mounting his little horse and talking all sorts of anti-US trash, Ollanta has motivated the nationalist emotions of poor Peruvians, blaming free trade and global capitalism for all of Peru’s shortcomings.

Ollanta says he does not want any US military officers on Peruvian soil. Given the chance, he will surely extend that eviction notice to Peace Corps Volunteers currently spending years of their precious, precious lives hanging out with poor people all over Peru. He says he does not want any trade deals with the United States, and probably thinks that Hugo Chavez will be the Spanish-speaking sugar daddy that Peru so desperately wants. Maybe he is right, maybe it is all a show that will change if he gets elected, and maybe he will commit Peru to four years of real recession.

With 31% of this first round of votes, Ollanta leads the race going into the run-off. What is amazing, though, is that we have no idea WHO he will face. Tied for second place, with around 24% each, are Alan Garcia and Lourdes Flores. Garcia singlehandedly ran the country into the ground, putting Peru in its most acute economic crisis in memory. By any rational standards, he would never have gotten onto the ballot.

Lourdes is a woman, and as popular as she may be among the Peruvian New Yorkers going to the polls, she is a woman. Peruvians are not at all ready for her. Sad, but, apparently true.

So whoever wins second place will determine where the election goes. If it is Garcia, it is hard to imagine Lourdes’ votes passing to Ollanta. In that case, Peru is taking a huge gamble with the worst manager the economy has had in decades. If Lourdes faces Ollanta, it is not hard to see where that will go. Lourdes will not win.

We will see where it all ends up in a few weeks, but it looks like Ollanta. I just hope my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers are ready for him...