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.

Peru’s narrow presidential win–and unusual divided government

In Peru, narrow loser Keiko Fujimori has now conceded defeat to Pedro Pablo Kaczynski (PPK) in the presidential run-off. The final result is 50.12% to 49.9%. This is right up there with some of the slimmest margins in the annals of presidential elections. It does not quite beat Taiwan, 2004, however (50.11-49.89).*

Of particular interest is that this election results in divided government, defined as a single-party majority in the assembly opposed to the president. That majority is itself unusual, as it was based on just 37.8% of the vote. Fujimori’s party, Fuerza Popular (FP), won 73 seats out of 130 (56.5%), for an advantage ratio of 1.49. That is staggeringly high for a “proportional” system. Peru uses D’Hondt divisors. The mean district magnitude is around 5. Ordinarily, even D’Hondt (known to favor the largest party) would not produce such a disproportional outcome, particularly given that the country has several large-magnitude districts. However, the second largest party nationwide had only 17.1% (Peruanos Por el Kambio**), implying that in many districts, FP must have been far ahead and therefore poised to maximize advantage out of the D’Hondt divisors. (I did not take the time to scrutinize the district results myself.)

The assembly election was concurrent with the first round, and the FP actually ran just a little behind its candidate, who won 39.9%. PPK (the candidate) won 21.1% in the first round, thereby running well ahead of PPK (the party). Even so, he required a big runoff comeback to eventually win. In fact, Peru 2016 would be just a bit to the right of Austria’s recent (also very close) election in the graph I posted on runoff comebacks.

I do not know of another case of divided government resulting from a presidential runoff election where the assembly had been elected concurrent to the presidential first round.

This was a very unusual election season in Peru. Governing may be a challenge, and divided government may yield some upcoming reminders that the Peruvian system actually is semi-presidential.


* By comparison, the recent election in Austria was practically a landslide.

** The spelling is a play on Pedro Pablo Kaczynski’s initials.

Elimination of open lists in Peru (proposed)

There was a debate in Peru about possibly eliminating the preference vote, and thereby changing from open to closed lists. I wonder if any readers have further information. The following news item (quoted in full) is from November, 2015:

La Comisión de Constitución del Congreso de la República inició esta mañana el esperado debate del proyecto de ley que elimina el voto preferencial para la elección de parlamentarios, sin embargo, pese al compromiso público de sus líderes, los legisladores de diversas bancadas, salvo la nacionalista, se pronunciaron en contra de la propuesta.

José León, de Perú Posible, planteó que la propuesta no sea sometida a votación hoy y que continúe el debate en el seno de la Comisión de Constitución. Dijo, incluso, que es una impertinencia cualquier intento de eliminar el voto preferencial, ya que en 20 semanas se llevarán a cabo las elecciones y ningún partido político está en condiciones de implementar todo un sistema de elección de candidatos al Congreso a través de lista cerrada.(Peru21)

The next elections are now quite soon; presumably the open list will, continue, for now at least.

So, Peru’s system is a hybrid

I’ve been trying to get the point across for years: Peru does not have a (pure) presidential system. It is a semi-presidential system.

Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara was forced to step down after losing a vote of confidence in Congress on Monday… President Ollanta Humala must now select a new prime minister and cabinet.

Via the BBC. My emphasis.

Also, “It is the first time in half a century that Peru’s Congress has deposed a prime minister.” But not using a power does not mean the power does not exist–and, potentially, affect the political process.

Peru’s presidential runoff

Peruvians vote today in a presidential runoff that is being described as the country’s most “polarizing” ever.

What a bad choice: the daughter for the former president-turned-dictator over the “populist” and “leftist” (perhaps “Chavista”) former army officer. That would be Keiko (daughter of Alberto) Fujimori vs. Ollanta Humala. Polls suggest the race is tight.

The polarization is, of course, exacerbated by the electoral system, this being the runoff between two candidates who managed to combine for only about 55% the vote in the first round.

The legislature was elected concurrently with the first round in April. (We had a lengthy and information discussion here at that time.) The fragmentation of the legislature elected then reflects the fragmentation of the first-round field. That is, whoever wins today will face a deeply divided legislature. However, if it is Humala, he will have a larger base of co-partisan legislators than Fujimori would have. Partly that is because he came in first in the first round (31.7%-23.5%), and partly that is because his rural support and the legislative electoral system combined to over-represent his party to a significant degree. Peru has many small-magnitude districts in rural areas, and thus his party, Gana Peru (Peru Wins), has 36.2% of the seats despite only 25.3% of the legislative votes. (Note how much weaker, however, his party was than was Ollanta himself: 25% of the votes vs. 31%.) Fujimori’s party, Fuerza 2011, has 28.4% of seats on 23.0% of votes.

What a volatile combination: a polarized presidential race, and a fragmented congress!

Peru elections 2011

Peru held elections Sunday for president (first round), congress, and (if anyone cares) Andean Parliament.

The president is elected by two-round majority. The front-running candidate won just over a quarter of the vote: Ollanta Humala, with 27.4%. As is often the case with fragmented first-round fields, the race for the second slot in the runoff was closer than the race between the top two. Keiko Fujimori appears to have made it in with 20.8%, but as just over 82% of returns have been processed, her margin over Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, at 18.1%, is not safe yet.

Former president Alejandro Toledo ran fourth, currently on 13.6%.

Fujimori is, of course, the daughter of the former president, Alberto, who now resides in a jail cell. Kuczynski is a former prime minister who served during part of Toledo’s presidency. (Yes, Peru has a semi-presidential system, of the president-parliamentary subtype, and not a pure presidential system.)

As is typical in Peru, the party system barely deserves the name. The party of the incumbent, Alan Garcia, did not even have a candidate in this process. This party, APRA, has been a major party in Peru since the 1930s, although it has held the presidency only twice, both times with Garcia (elected 1985 and 2006).*

The names of the top five candidates’ parties tell us little about what they stand for: Peru Wins, Force 2011, Alliance for the Great Change, Possible Peru, and the National Solidarity Alliance (my translations). The candidate of Justice, Technology, and Ecology managed only 0.06% and National Awakening slumbered to 0.12%, while Forward remained stuck below 0.1%.

Far less of the congressional vote has been processed at this point. Peru’s unicameral congress is elected by open-list PR, with most districts having magnitudes in the 2-9 range, except for Lima (M=35).

UPDATE: Rici has some corrections on the congressional districting and other useful information in a comment, and boz also addresses the congressional result.

* Its “populist” founder, Victor Haya de la Torre, won a plurality in 1962, with 33% at a time when the rule was that one third of the votes was sufficient for the front-runner to be elected. Otherwise the legislature selected from the top three. A military coup annulled the results of the 1962 election.

House passes Peru trade deal, Dems divided

The House of Representatives has passed the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement. This deal was signed in April, 2006, but it is the first trade agreement to come before Congress since the change in party control in the November, 2006, US midterm elections.

Given the centrality of trade to the outcome of those elections–particularly in many swing districts–it is hardly surprising that the vote split the majority party. The vote was 285-132, with 176 Republicans and only 109 Democrats in favor. In other words, over half (53.2%) of Democrats opposed the bill (as did about one in eight Republicans).

After the change of party control, both the US and Peruvian governments agreed to modify the deal to include labor and environmental standards in order to ensure passage. It worked, even if the final vote revealed the Democrats’ continuing deep divisions on trade.

The bill still has to pass the US Senate, but that is presumably a foregone conclusion.

The pact was originally ratified by the Peruvian congress easily (79-14, with 7 abstentions) in late June, 2006. (Thanks to a Wikipedia editor for the reference.) I wonder if the Peruvian congress had to re-authorize it after the additional standards were negotiated, or if under Peruvian law such changes are within executive prerogative. (Boz answers this question in the comments: Yes, Peru’s congress did reauthorize the revised agreement. Thanks, boz!)