Aids and terminal cancer are two different deceases that, if untreated, lead to death. Not in Peruvian politics. Two years ago, Mario Vargas Llosa argued that a presidential run-off scenario confronting the daughter of a corrupt autocrat serving a 25-year sentence for human-right abuses and a former golpista was unthinkable. If this scenario were to take place, Vargas Llosa argued, it would evidence the foolishness of the Peruvian electorate. That scenario, unimaginable for the Nobel laureate and champion of (classical) liberalism back in 2009, will take place this upcoming Sunday when Peruvians will choose between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala to fill in for President Alan García. But unlike aids and cancer, the two contesters are akin to a rash and a eczema. They could be the same thing and you can live with it.
Take the May 29 televised debate between Fujimori and Humala. In what was supposed to be an opportunity for each candidate to increase his or her voting support, given that most opinion polls showed a tie between the candidates, the two scripted and uncharismatic candidates presented their policy solutions on four broad subjects: poverty alleviation, public security and narco-trafficking, institutions and democracy, and economics and social inclusion. In each of their responses both candidates showed their support for the same broad policy goals: favor an institutional environment where private enterprise helps continue fostering growth in Perú, including stability en the regulatory environment for mining and other extractive industries; trickle down recent prosperity with nuanced doses of technocratic populism; maintain the credibility and stability of the country’s economic and political institutions; strengthen the police and judicial system’s capacity for controlling and prosecuting illegal activates and prevent Perú becoming a narco-state. Just like the two agreed on this broader policy goals, so do the major personalities that have recently show supported for each candidate.
In the case of Keiko, Hernando de Soto has joined her to support Keiko’s economic team with a focus on property rights and titling. Similarly, popular and bitter journalist and political commentator Jaime Bayly wrote an op-ed in support of Mrs. Fujimori. In the Humala camp, Alvaro and Mario Vargas Llosa as well as former president Alejandro Toledo joined forces to support the former populist colonel turn moderate politician arguing Fujimori’s bid would bring back the tugs that co-governed with her father. All these individuals opposed, and some were persecuted by, the Fujimori regime. Similarly, they condemned Humala’s coup attempts and oppose his populist, Hugo Chávez’s backed, 2006 presidential bid. All in all, Humala and Keiko have similarities. The risks each candidate poses to any threat for the stability of a democratic market-based political and economic system are certainly lessened by the credibility cloud all these supporters of liberal democracy generate around each candidate. Peruvians, too, would not allow a center-right or center-left populist undo the road to prosperity initiated in the post-Fujimori era. This holds true even though a decade of extremely positive performance has not, and needs to, trickle down. This, in fact, is the challenge the next Peruvian president will have to address.
Elections are won on Election Day and if any, the run-off is less a deadly decease and more like a minor rash. If Alan Garcia’s first term was like an awful hangover after a terrible party and this second term of his was like a beautiful spring day bike-ride, then a Keiko or a Humala government could be completely the opposite of what people and markets fear. After all, Perú is the land of the comebacks to which Mr. Garcia can clearly attest. Stay tuned for the results.