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Peru: Lima's Electors Caught Between Yes and No

[Links are to Spanish-language pages, unless otherwise indicated.]

In Lima these days, it isn't just summer temperatures that are heating up the electorate, it's also the political climate. On March 17, the city will hold a recall referendum on municipal officials in the metropolitan area, and the YES and NO campaigns are all ready in full swing.

Susana Villaran

Photo by Flickr user Manuel (Imanol), licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

In this case, the NO and YES refer respectively to current Mayoress Susana Villarán [en] and whether she keeps or loses her job. The Mayoress is finishing up the second year of the four-year term for which she was elected, and without embarking on an assessment of her tenure, events such as the riots that broke out during the relocation of the La Parada market [en], which resulted in two deaths, and the flooding of the Via Parque Rimac construction site [en], have undermined her image among limeños, as the city's residents are known. Recent opinion polls put her approval rating at only 29%, and more worrisome still are the 60% of limeños who favour her recall.

Renatto, of the blog Perú Académicocommented on these numbers and the confusion between the YES and NO sides:

Un 8% de limeños aún no sabe cómo votará, y es ahí que comienza lo realmente asqueroso: mienten, engañan, confunden a la gente con tal de ganarse esos ocho puntos que quizá decidan la revocatoria. Nos quedamos cortos si hablamos de un 8% de limeños indecisos, pues si bien un contundente 60% votaría por revocar a Susana Villarán, estos no saben qué marcar: o el NO o el SÍ. Frases como “yo votaré para que NO siga Susana Villarán”, “Marquen el NO, para que no siga Susana en la alcaldía”, solo buscan confundir a la mayor cantidad posible de electores.

Some 8% of limeños still don't know how they are going to vote, and this is where it gets really sickening: there is lying, cheating, misleading of people in order to capture those eight points that could decide the recall. It is an understatement to say 8% of limeños are undecided: even if a resounding 60% would vote to recall Susana Villarán, they don't know whether to tick YES or NO. Lines like “I will vote NO more Susan Villarán” or “Tick NO, to make sure Susana leaves city hall” are just trying to confuse as many voters as possible.

Javier Diez Canseco, a leftwing congressman, points out that “the recall started the day Susana Villarán took office”, implying that this is not a response to bad municipal management, rather that it is the slogan of her political opponents, and that ex-president Alan García and former mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda are behind the recall.

It seems this premature decision to secure the recall of Mayoress Villarán could bear fruit. In his blog Percepciones y Realidades, Alfredo Torres, CEO of the market research firm Ipsos Perú, describes the paradox of the working classes fingering a social crusader who has tried to make a “Lima for all”:

Un aspecto de su gestión valorado por las élites es que Susana Villarán se ha atrevido a enfrentar el desorden del tránsito vehicular y clausurar el caótico mercado de La Parada. Sin embargo, es probable que esas mismas medidas la hayan alejado de un amplio sector de la población que vive en la informalidad y que desconfía de las autoridades que quieren formalizar actividades porque supone que eso implicará pagar impuestos y mayores precios para el consumidor. Lamentablemente la cultura cívica es minoritaria en nuestra población.

One aspect of Susana Villarán's management appreciated by the elites is the way she has dared to confront traffic congestion and close the chaotic La Parada market. However, it is likely that these same measures alienated a wide section of the population that relies on an informal economy, suspicious of authorities who want to formalize activities because it means they will have to pay taxes and higher consumer prices. Unfortunately civic culture is scarce in our city.

But those who have prompted the recall, commonly known as the “recallers”, do not enjoy a good reputation. They are linked to alleged corruption, in particular Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, the main instigator of the process, whom the Mayoress's defenders have nicknamed “Murky Marco”. In his eponymous blog, Jinre, provides a list of some of those who support the recall along with their biographical “gems”. And in another post he voices his support for the Mayoress and Fuerza Social, her political party:

Yo apoyo a Susana Villarán [...] porque ningún alcalde anterior de Lima hasta la fecha se atrevió a enfrentar los problemas más difíciles de esta ciudad (¿será porque recibían “algo” a cambio de no hacer nada?), sin embargo, Susana Villarán los está afrontando con valentía, asumiendo con dignidad incluso posibles errores en el camino (lo cual la dignifica aún más) y sobretodo “sin arreglos bajo la mesa”; su decencia y conducta incorruptible parece que ha desubicado a los que estaban acostumbrados a “aceitar” a ciertas autoridades para seguir sacando provecho de lo que está mal [...] Yo no apoyo la cochinada política. Fuerza Susana !!

I support Susana Villarán [...] because no previous mayor of Lima has ever dared tackle the city's most difficult problems. (Is it because they received ‘something’ in return for doing nothing?) Despite that, Susana Villarán is confronting them with courage and dignity, even admitting possible mistakes made along the way (a fact that further dignifies her), and most of all ‘without back room dealings'. Her decency and honest conduct seem to have disoriented those who are used to greasing the wheels of power in order to continue taking advantage of a bad situation [...] I don't support political filth. More power to you, Susana!

Nevertheless, transparency is not the highlight of the campaign: both the YES and NO sides have failed to adequately disclose their finances. Still, because this is a referendum and not an election per se, it is not sanctionable by Peru's National Electoral Committee. Diego Macera, of the blog A Chicago voy, weighs in on the relevance of this aspect:

¿Qué relación guarda que Marco Tulio Gutiérrez genere poca confianza y haya recogido las firmas usando financiamiento desconocido con que algún ciudadano de Surco se sienta decepcionado por la inacción de la municipalidad respecto del tráfico en su distrito u otro ciudadano se sienta estafado por las cifras poco claras de escaleras construidas por la municipalidad? La verdad es que ninguna. El desmerecer la campaña por el Sí con el argumento de que su financiamiento es irregular es intentar tapar el sol con un dedo. Los fondos del Sí pueden ser cuestionables, es cierto, pero eso no tiene por qué cambiar la opinión ciudadana sobre la labor que Susana Villarán y su equipo llevan a cabo al frente de Lima, y es de eso de lo que trata la consulta popular.

What does the fact that Marco Tulio Gutiérrez generates little confidence and obtained signatures using undisclosed financing have to do with a resident of Surco being disappointed by the lack of municipal initiative on traffic in his district or another feeling swindled because of the unclear figures on municipal stairway construction? In truth nothing. Discrediting the YES campaign by claiming its financing is irregular is like trying to block out the sun with one finger. Funding of the YES side may indeed be questionable, but this should not alter the public's opinion of the work Susana Villarán and her team have undertaken at the city's helm, and that is what the referendum is about.

Still the referendum process, as indicated above, is itself a little complicated. In addition to confusion over the use of YES and NO, there is the matter of the ballot, which features 80 options because the referendum is not just on the record of the Mayoress but the 40-member Council as well. In that regard, Fernando Tuesta, former head of the National Office of Electoral Processes, published on his blog what he believes are the four possible outcomes of the referendum:

1. Susana Villarán es mellada en su mandato. Este escenario se produciría si la alcaldesa NO es revocada, pero sí varios regidores, indistintamente de cualquier partido, pero un máximo de 13 regidores.
2. Susana Villarán pierde la mayoría del Concejo. Este escenario se produciría si la alcaldesa NO es revocada, pero sí 14 regidores o más de cualquier partido [...] los regidores revocados son reemplazados por los accesitarios, pero de manera provisional, hasta la realización de Nuevas Elecciones Municipales
3. Lima tiene un alcalde que nadie eligió. Este escenario se produciría si la alcaldesa SÍ es revocada y, además un máximo de 12 regidores. No hay, sin embargo, nuevas elecciones municipales. La alcaldesa es reemplazada por el primer regidor de Fuerza Social no revocado.
4. Un nuevo alcalde, sin mayoría. Este escenario se produciría si la alcaldesa SÍ es revocada, así como 13 regidores o más. La alcaldesa y los regidores revocados son reemplazados por los accesitarios [...]  hasta que se elija un nuevo alcalde y regidores.

1. Susana Villarán's mandate is damaged. This would occur in a scenario where NO, the Mayoress is not recalled but several councillors are, from either party, up to a maximum of 13.
2. Susana Villarán loses a majority of the Council. This would occur if NO, the Mayoress is not recalled, but 14 or more councillors from either party are [...] the recalled councillors would be provisionally replaced until new municipal elections were held.
3. Lima has a mayor that nobody elected. This would happen if YES, the Mayoress were recalled, along with a maximum of 12 councillors. However new municipal elections are not held. The Mayoress is replaced by the first councillor of Fuerza Social not to have been recalled.
4. A new mayor, without a majority.  This would occur if YES, the Mayoress is recalled, along with 13 or more councillors. The mayoress and recalled councillors are provisionally replaced [...] until the election of a new mayor and councillors.

Facebook user René Galarreta disagrees with some of the outcomes outlined above:

Lo que no explica Tuesta es que para revocar un regidor, es necesario 1/3 de votos válidos, una vez que vayan a votar más del 50% del número de electores limeños. O sea que si van a votar al menos 3,179,158 electores y hay un voto más del SI contra el NO en la casilla 39, y hasta 2/3 del resto de votos nulos o en blanco, ese regidor es revocado (si hay más de 2/3 de votos nulos o en blanco, el regidor se quedaría). Cada regidor sería revocado de manera independiente, así como la alcaldesa. Eso explica el “40 veces NO”, donde para salvar el pellejo cada regidor tiene que rezar para que los votos del No superen al Si, o haya menos de 1/3 de votos válidos.

What Tuesta does not explain is that to recall a councillor requires 1/3 of valid votes, once more than 50% of eligible voters have participated. In other words, if at least 3,179,158 constituents vote and there is one vote more for YES than NO in box 39, and up to 2/3 of the rest are null or blank ballots, that councillor is recalled (if more than 2/3 of ballots are null or blank, the councillor stays). Each councillor would be recalled independently, just like the Mayoress. This explains the “40 times NO”, where in order to save their skin, every councillor has to pray that the NO votes trump the YES, or that less than 1/3 of ballots are declared valid.

The referendum is less than two months away, and although Lima's newspapers provide daily campaign updates, until now there has been little information on how constituents can properly exercise their vote in accordance with their opinion. As the journalist Martín Hidalgo mentions in Sesión de Control, the political parties see this campaign as a warmup to the presidential elections of 2016, and:

Mientras tanto, Susana Villarán juega su propio partido entre frases desafortunadas, cifras falsas y encuestas que le anticipan un futuro nada alentador. La campaña recién empieza.

Meanwhile, Susana Villarán is risking her own party amid unfortunate catchphrases, inaccurate figures, and polls that point to a less than encouraging future. The campaign has just begun.

Post previously published on the blog Globalizado.

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