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Volume 57 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: PERU


DAVID SCOTT PALMER, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Chairman of the Department of Political Science, and Founding Director, Latin American Studies Program, Boston University.


OVER THE MID TO LATE 1990S, Peruvian politics became more predictable and routinized. These were welcome developments after a turbulent decade of hyperinflation, economic stagnation and decline, intolerable levels of political violence, autogolpe, and international opprobrium (items bi 95008385, bi 97013132, bi 95024302, bi 95024296, bi 95024300, and bi 95024328).

From a field of 14 candidates, President Alberto Fujimori easily won the 1995 presidential race (with 64 percent in the first round). The elections followed the adjusted rules of the 1993 Constitution permitting immediate reelection and a return to counting percentages based on the valid vote rather than the total vote (as in 1985 and 1990) (items bi 95024309 and bi 96022991). Quite unexpectedly, his supporters also won an absolute majority, (67 of 120 seats), in the one-chamber Congress, even though they received just 25 percent of the total vote. This outcome was largely due to much voter confusion when confronted with a cluttered field of 22 parties, a single list for each national electoral district, the option to specify two preferences from a single list, and abbreviated voting hours (item bi 97010710). International observer missions declared the results “free and fair” and the United States supported this position. Thus, despite persisting reservations in the minds of many, Peru returned to full standing as a functioning democracy (items bi 95024346, bi 98000671, bi 97010710, and bi 97010716).

Peru’s economy continued to improve. Growth in 1994 was a record 13 percent, with the 1995 to 1997 average a more modest, but still healthy, 5 percent. Poverty levels declined slightly (from 47 to 45 percent), foreign investment levels remained high (with U.S. investment increasing from $300 million in 1996 to just over $1 billion in 1996), and a significant debt reduction under a 1997 Brady Plan agreement (of $9.4 billion, or about 50 percent of upcoming obligations) gave Peru some breathing room in its international financial obligations. Nevertheless, even as economic and political stability were restored in Peru, many analysts became concerned over the country’s continuing lack of political institutionalization, the influence of the armed forces, and President Fujimori’s personalistic and authoritarian style of governance (items bi 96024800 and bi 95005977).

On the day of his April 7, 1995 electoral victory, President Fujimori declared his commitment to “direct democracy, without parties or intermediaries between the President and the people.” Because none of the established parties had received at least five percent of the vote in the presidential elections, under new procedures each party had to gather at least 600,000 signatures before being reregistered for participation in future elections. None had been approved as of late 1997. Other disquieting government initiatives included: 1) a June 1995 general amnesty for any abuses committed during the counterinsurgency campaign, 2) the concentration of more than 25 percent of the government budget in the Ministry of the Presidency, 3) the removal of three Supreme Electoral Tribunal judges who ruled against the constitutionality of a third election of the president, 4) the revocation of the citizenship of the majority owner of a television station that revealed telephone wiretapping of some 200 leading politicians, journalists, and business executives, and 5) the continuation of “faceless judges”in military trials of accused terrorists until October 1997.

Although incidents and deaths related to political violence continued to decline (to about 400 and 200 respectively in 1997), deep pockets of unrest remained. On December 18, 1996, the world was riveted when 14 Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrillas seized control of the Japanese Ambassador’s residence, taking over 500 hostages. Amidst on and off negotiations, the siege and standoff continued for over four months. Then a spectacular assault on April 22, 1997 by approximately 180 specially-trained Peruvian military personnel successfully evacuated all but one of the remaining 42 hostages and killed all the guerrillas.

Although President Fujimori benefitted from this successful outcome by a temporary jump in popular support, his poll numbers soon fell to lows unprecedented in his seven-year presidency, declining to a mere 20 to 25 percent approval rating. For almost the first time, it appears that Fujimori might be vulnerable to defeat should he decide, as appears likely, to run for reelection yet again in April 2000. As of the end of 1997, the leading opposition candidate is the Mayor of Lima, Alberto Andrade.


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