Julio Guzmán is young, telegenic and could be Peru’s next leader. He has also just overcome what could turn out to be his biggest obstacle to the presidency: being allowed to run in the first place.
As of February 1, Guzmán, who this time last year was a political unknown, had been enjoying a meteoric rise in popularity. A shock poll result released that day revealed that he was the only presidential candidate with a serious chance of defeating front runner Keiko Fujimori. A day later however reports began to emerge of Peru’s Political Organizations Registry (ROP) not being happy with the way Guzmán’s party Todos Por El Perú (TPP, or Everyone for Peru) chose him as their candidate. TPP stood accused of violating there own party rules to ensure Guzmán could stand.
Though Guzmán and his team tried to play down the issue as a “technical problem” it soon became clear that something serious was afoot. A dispute over the minutiae of electoral regulation-baffling to most outsiders- now threatened to disqualify him completely from the presidential race. Guzmán himself could see the writing in the wall: “it’s strange to us that just the day after the polls show us in second place these things start being filtered through the media. There’s a black hand, ulterior motives at work,” Guzmán ruefully claimed.
Death blow and Resurection
Things only got worse for Guzmán when on February 16, Peru’s National Electoral Court upheld the findings of the ROP over the inadequacy of TPP’s electoral procedures. Guzman upped his rhetoric, claiming knowledge of outside pressures being exerted over Peru’s electoral organisations involving “millions and millions of dollars in underhand deals, corruption, narco trafficking and money laundering.”
On February 19 the death blow was seemingly dealt. Guzmán’s candidacy was ruled inadmissible by Peru’s electoral board (JEE). He was given two days to provide documents that could overturn the findings. Few expected this to happen.
But it did. This Wednesday the JEE agreed that TPP had not violated internal party statutes and that Guzmán’s candidacy could proceed.
A marked man?
Wednesday’s decision would seem to confound Guzmán’s claims of a conspiracy to stop him from becoming president. Though the electoral authorities seemed uncharacteristically officious in the treatment of TPP’s alleged infractions, thue conspiracy claims, which even made their way into international media, really amounted to nothing more than conjecture.
If Guzmán feels that he is a marked man however, he is probably right. He simply does not fit in well with Peru’s burlesque and amoral political scene which for April’s presidential election is putting an alleged killer, the daughter of a jailed ex-president, a plagiarist and a human rights abuser with narco-trafficking connections on the ballot paper.
Instead of stock populist promises and scandal, Guzman, an economist with a milquetoast personality and 10 years experience working at the Inter-American Bank, projects an air of competency and reasonableness that scares his rivals.
Instead of outlining sweeping reforms Guzmán presents himself as a pragmatic and non-ideological candidate focussed upon tackling corruption and delivering public services more efficiently which makes him difficult to attack.
Most importantly however, in ways that are reminiscent of Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral bid, Guzmán has inspired his supporters to believe that he is not merely an “outsider” candidate but the hope and change candidate. As a result, Guzmán can count on a dedicated and vociferous grassroots movement to support him, largely made up of young people who hang on his every word and are willing to swing into action on social media to defend and spread his message.
His rivals know that this kind of support can outgun the best funded electoral campaigns.
After end of a month long saga in which it feels like Guzmán has already fought and won an election against the political establishment, that support, dubbed “the purple wave” after his campaign colours, now seems more likely than ever to grow and carry him into the presidential palace this April.