Tattletales Rock 2016 Peruvian Presidential Elections

Keiko Fujimori, the daughter and honorary first lady of former President Alberto Fujimori (who overthrew Congress in the 1992 self-coup, approved documented human rights abuses in the conflict against the Shining Path for which he is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence, allowed the head of his intelligence service to entangle several sectors of Peruvian civil society in a massive corruption scheme, and operated a forced sterilization program in the provinces (1)) is the comfortable frontrunner in the current Peruvian presidential electoral cycle, although her eventual victory is by no means a given.

Alan García, whose disastrous heterodox stabilization policies led the Peruvian economy to suffer four-digit inflation rates when he left the presidency in 1990, is running for a third term in office.
Gregorio Santos, the former governor of the Cajamarca region in northern Peru, is running for President in spite of being incarcerated, awaiting trial for various charges of participating in bribery schemes.

And yet, the most controversial aspect of these presidential elections has centered around the tachas, or complaints against a candidate or party for violating the Organic Electoral Law, against the campaign of Julio Guzmán and the exclusionary proceedings against César Acuña. Both positioned themselves as the potential challenger to Keiko in an eventual runoff, leading up to the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones’ (JNE) decision barring them from the race on 9 March.

To understand how the JNE could delay making a final determination on the legitimacy of key candidates until a month before Election Day (10 April), one must begin with the realization that the concept of vetting is simply absent from Peruvian political culture. Whether at the municipal, regional or national levels, elections feature weak, faceless, unconsolidated parties that adopt local candidates often for a fee or donation, without properly evaluating a candidate’s background and reputation. For its part, the JNE and its subordinate Jurado Especial de Elecciones (JEE) fail to conduct any background or eligibility checks on participating candidates. A member of the citizenry must present a tacha against a candidate (in 2016, the process costs 3,950 nuevos soles or US$1,179) for electoral authorities to weigh in on the issue.

A pair of examples from the 2014 municipal and regional elections reflect the persistence of this dynamic. On 21 July 2014, the JNE approved a tacha filed by Lima municipal official Edwin Alfonso Espinoza Chávez against Carlos Burgos Horna, the mayor of the populous San Juan de Lurigancho district, barring him from running for reelection for misrepresenting his secondary studies on his curriculum. On 12 August 2014, then-Interior Minister Daniel Urresti presented to the JNE a list of 124 registered municipal and regional candidates who had been tried or investigated for ties to drug trafficking. It bears emphasizing, only after the Interior Ministry intervened and presented the results of its own investigation did the maximum electoral authority of the country move to exclude candidates with ties to drug trafficking.

The current elections already included a revelation regarding the lack of vetting a month before the legitimacy of the Guzmán and Acuña campaigns came into question. In January 2016, the Asociación Civil Transparencia released a tool allowing political parties to conduct civil and criminal background checks on candidates to be included in their closed lists for Congress. On 25 January, the Association revealed eleven of the twenty parties registered for the current elections made fewer than 100 searches with the tool, and six of them (including Guzmán’s party Todos Por el Perú) used it fewer than 10 times. On 14 February 2016, the Association announced it had discovered 52 congressional candidates who were involved in ongoing criminal trials or had criminal records. In this case, the JNE declined to act, leaving it up to the parties to voluntarily remove said candidates.

It is in this context that, on 17 February 2016, the JNE upheld a resolution from the Registro de Organizaciones Políticas, in which the latter had declared it found irregularities with the 10 October 2015 Todos Por el Perú party meeting, where its symbol, statutes, and the membership of its internal National Electoral Committee and Electoral Tribunal were updated. In particular, the party failed to reach quorum with only five of 55 party administrators present. Two days later, the JEE of Lima 1 ruled Guzmán’s candidacy was inadmissible, clarifying this designation allowed the party two days to submit the proper paperwork and resolve the aforementioned irregularities. The party acquiesced, and on 24 February 2016, the JEE of Lima 1 approved the reinsertion of Guzmán in the presidential campaign.

Immediately after, eleven different tachas were filed against Guzmán, including one from the Solidaridad Nacional party, whose presidential candidate, Hernando Guerra García, had sensationally chained himself to the fence surrounding the Government Palace to protest the JEE decision allowing Guzmán back in the race. The tachas accused Todos Por el Perú of approving Julio Guzmán as its presidential candidate on 20 December 2015, based on internal statutes approved in the ostensibly illegitimate 10 October 2015 meeting. The JEE of Lima 1 accepted nine of the tachas for consideration and approved them on 4 March 2016, ruling to bar Guzmán’s presidential ticket and the party’s list of candidates for Congress from the election. The JNE upheld the ruling on 9 March by a 3-2 vote. Guzmán committed to filing an extraordinary appeal against the JNE decision and for amparo (2) before the Judicial Branch of the nation, but on 15 March Todos Por el Perú announced the withdrawal all of its Congressional candidates as well as its presidential candidate. Guzmán is out.

The case of Alianza Para el Progreso candidate César Acuña only coincides with Guzmán’s with respect to the dates their respective campaigns were rejected by the JEE of Lima 1 and the JNE. Tachas were filed against the Acuña campaign for declaring an address in San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima. The former La Libertad Governor, owner of the César Vallejo University and the professional soccer club by the same name, has been based in the northern city of Trujillo over the course of his professional career. Nevertheless, on 2 March 2016, the JNE rejected the tachas, ruling the address did not necessarily have to coincide with the candidate’s permanent residence and that it was recognized by the Registro Nacional de Identificación y Estado Civil (RENIEC). Acuña has faced several allegations of plagiarism regarding his academic publications; while it directly contributed to his fall from second place in national polls, the corresponding academic institution has yet to confirm it, leaving his curriculum and candidacy intact.

Rather, the JEE of Lima 1 opened exclusionary proceedings against Acuña on 23 February 2016 after he openly donated 10,000 nuevos soles (US$2,985 on 15 March 2016) to the informal market Señor de los Milagros in Chosica, Lima on 14 February. The act clearly violated the provision of the Organic Electoral Law proscribing the giving of money or gifts during electoral campaigns. Acuña and his party held to the argument that the provision was published after the campaign season began and should not apply to the current elections. Ultimately, they failed to convince either the JEE of Lima 1 or the JNE of their position. It is worth noting, as of 14 March, the JNE is considering a tacha against Keiko Fujimori for similar offenses and is expected to emit a final ruling shortly. Alan García also faces a tacha for abuse of power and excessive pardons during his second presidential term.

One is hard-pressed to find fault with the JNE’s handling of the Acuña candidacy. He committed an infraction in the middle of an electoral campaign and suffered the consequences prescribed by the Organic Electoral Law. The Guzmán saga, however, speaks to the spirit of amateurish improvisation present in every facet of the Peruvian electoral cycle. The ruling itself is rightfully considered controversial and heavy-handed. Those who raised concerns about the timing (Guzmán only emerged in second place in national polls at the end of January 2016) must understand this is how the electoral system is designed to work. Neither political parties nor electoral authorities accept responsibility for proactively vetting candidates; only after individuals, whatever their motivation, file tachas against a candidate does the relevant Jury of Elections bother to consider whether the candidate is even eligible to participate.

Also of note, President Ollanta Humala’s Partido Nacionalista, headed by his wife Nadine Heredia, withdrew its candidate, Daniel Urresti, on 11 March. Considering he seldom polled above 4 percent, no one expects the news to have a major impact on the rest of the campaign.

1 - Popularly used to refer to everywhere in Peru outside of the Lima-Callao metropolitan area.
2 - Habeas corpus suspension of an investigation or a ruling imposed by a governmental authority.