Some thoughts on Peru’s midterm election

After the Constitutional Tribunal ruled them legal, Peru held extraordinary legislative elections on 26 January. President Vizcarra dissolved Congress on the grounds that Congress had voted no-confidence in his cabinet (although not directly) twice. This was the first use of this provision since Peru’s 1992 constitution was promulgated, and as such it was the first time when legislative and presidential elections were not held concurrently.

However, the election did not merely lack a presidential contest. Almost uniquely, President Vizcarra, despite having been elected as part of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s party (previously Peruanos por el Kambio, now Contigo), chose not to endorse any party for the elections, merely advising voters to inform themselves. This reluctance was seemingly not due to any concern that Vizcarra’s endorsement would be a weakness for any party: at the time of the election, his approval rating stood at 58%.

Peru’s unicameral Congress is elected using open party-list proportional representation in 26 regions, with a 5% threshold applied at the nationwide level. The average district magnitude of 5 makes this a relatively moderate form of proportional representation, which explains why Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular was able to win a comfortable majority of 56% of the seats in Congress at the 2016 election despite only winning 36% of the vote.

The results of this election, however, were extraordinarily fragmented. The largest party, Accion Popular, got only 10% of the vote, and nine parties made it above the 5% threshold to enter Congress. More than a quarter of votes went to parties below the threshold, and in four provinces the leading party will receive no representation in Congress.

I will leave it to Peruvian experts, which I most certainly am not, to discuss what this result means for Vizcarra’s ability to pass his agenda. However, the results are interesting for other reasons.

Since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, Peru’s party system has remained quite stable (at least in terms of numbers, the identity of the parties has changed quite a lot). It has also remained quite close to the number of parties that the Seat Product Model (Shugart and Taagepera, 2017) would predict.

These elections are thus extremely unusual, and are perhaps indicative of the high importance of presidential elections and presidential endorsements in imposing structure on legislative elections in presidential countries. A fact particularly suggestive of this is the disastrous result for the two leading parties in 2016, both of which were affiliated to presidential candidates. Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular fell from 36% of the vote and 78 seats to 7% and 15 seats, while Peruvanos por el Kambio/Contigo fell from 16% and 18 seats to 1% and no seats.

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Peru’s midterm election

  1. Very interesting. Thank you, Henry.

    Regarding that last point, it most certainly is sensible. However, it is quite contrary to what Taagepera and I argue in Votes from Seats. We say that the assembly seat product explains the effective number of presidential candidates (albeit with what we admit is high scatter, empirically), rather than the presidency or presidential election being needed to impose structure on the on assembly party system.

    Clearly there is some of both (and we show the timing of elections matters greatly to the seat share of president’s own party). But this case is one I’ll have to admit is harder for me to explain than it is for the more conventional wisdom that looks to presidential “coattails”, or their absence.

    • Yeah, I think the inferences I’ve drawn from this particular unusual case are reasonable, though I’ll have to reread your chapter and see exactly how the argument goes. It’s also possible that the increased fragmentation is due to more particularistic factors (the revelations of the Odebrecht scandal) destroying established parties, although I’m less inclined to believe this because Peru really doesn’t seem to have many established parties (Popular Force was formed in 2011 and PPK was formed in 2016).

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