An IPSOS poll published last Sunday shows leftist candidate Veronika Mendoza in a tie for third place with 14 percent of valid votes, a significant increase since the beginning of the campaign. Mendoza is an educator, born and raised in the city of Cuzco, the ancestral capital of the Incas and also speaks the native Inca language of Quechua.
The 35-year-old whose nickname is Vero has a consistent leftist platform and is running under the coalition Frente Amplio which groups many, but not all, major leftist forces in the country including parties, labor unions, collectives and social movements.
What is Mendoza's Background?
Mendoza won the candidature of Frente Amplio in an open primary election, the first of its kind in the country, in which she competed against six other leftist candidates. In that election, she obtained 43 percent of the vote followed by former priest and environmental activist, Marco Arana, who is currently the Frente Amplio candidate for vice president.
Mendoza was the candidate of a movement called Sembrar which ran a successful campaign aimed at renovating the face of the left. Other Congressional candidates like Mendoza have also won their place through open primary elections and they include a diversity of candidates from all sectors that make up Frente Amplio.
Although Mendoza represents a new generation of leftists involved in politics, she has experience in government. She served as a congresswoman for the past five years, having been elected in 2011 under the Nationalist Party of current President Ollanta Humala. Before that, Mendoza was a militant of the Nationalist Party.
However, in 2012, only a year after being elected to Congress, she resigned from the party, citing the betrayal of the election promises made by Humala and the repression of the social movement Espinar, in her region of Cuzco, that rose up against a mining project. She was the first to resign from the Nationalist Party and was soon followed by other Congress members, leading the Nationalist Party to lose its majority in Congress.
Where Does Mendoza Stand?
Mendoza's rise to third place has been slow but steady. Analysts claim that her rise responds to the high percentage of Peruvians who are looking for a fresh face in politics and an alternative to the neoliberal socio-economic system. Polls show that 68 percent of Peruvians want change in the economic path that has been pushed by all governments since 1990.
Mendoza has made clear that she will not side with large economic interests. At a rally she stated that “we don’t want to be in government to fit in, to have a seat or to make small repairs, to put makeup on things and at the end govern for the large economic groups. We are not going for that. We are going to defend the interests of the people.”
Frente Amplio has divided their main proposals into three categories. The party's first proposal is the “Economy for the People.” This proposes to raise the minimum wage, provide credits for micro businesses, increase public investment and social programs, and diversify the economy from its dependency on exports of raw materials.
The second proposal is “Rights for Everyone.” This promises to guarantee for all citizens access to health services, education, and a pension plan.
And the third proposal is “Development Without Destruction,” a policy to draw geographic lines and set clear quality limits for economic projects and to strengthen environmental standards, local authorities, and multi-sectoral studies and considerations.
Mendoza has gained particular attention for a program that provides stipends for housewives. Mendoza and Frente Amplio have also taken clear leftist stands on social issues that continue to be very controversial in Peru, such as support for same-sex marriage, abortion, animal rights and legalization of marijuana.
Internationally, Frente Amplio has identified with the Podemos movement of Spain and has received support from its members. In a letter signed by high representatives of Podemos they stated, “there are other projects that are closer to our vision of a country and of politics such as the one that Veronika Mendoza leads. Projects that we consider indispensable because only with the resolution of the particular problems of each country with governments that can successfully make changes can we build other international relations that are more just, with solidarity, and fraternal among people and peoples, far and wide.” Pablo Iglesias also sent a message in a video to support Mendoza where he states “greetings from Spain to Vero, I’m saying it from experience, yes, it is possible.”
Can Mendoza Continue to Build Support?
Popular sayings in Peru are “everything is possible in this country” or “anything can happen here.” Those expressions are also in reference to politics. Historically many candidates have risen from obscurity in a matter of months. Such was the case with Alberto Fujimori in 1990 and also for Ollanta Humala in 2006.
The first presidential poll gave Mendoza less than 1 percent and now she is tied for third place with 14 percent of valid votes and her support continues to rise. In addition, Mendoza is only four points away from passing the candidate currently in second place and who has stagnated on the polls. Whoever reaches the second spot in the first round of elections will go to a runoff against poll leader Keiko Fujimori.
Peruvian elections are characterized by the polarization between those who support Fujimori and those who reject her. However, for political analyst Carlos Bedoya, the rise of Mendoza could be explained by a “hidden trend” which is the reactivation of the vote “against continuity that is always present and that made president Ollanta Humala win the first round of elections in 2006 and 2011.”
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It is precisely in the same areas, the south of Peru and the rural areas, that heavily supported Ollanta that are now helping to build support for Mendoza. But unlike Humala who “was looking to bleach himself and often backtracked his positions, Mendoza is reaffirming a project for the long term and not lowering her flags," according to Bedoya.
For Bedoya the biggest challenge Mendoza now faces is the constant attacks by the right with their powerful media machinery. So far, those attacks have been centered on Mendoza’s past with the now highly unpopular former President Humala, the relationship of members of Frente Amplio with the Bolivarian movement in Latin America, and defamatory accusations that claim Frente Amplio has ties with terrorists movements that disappeared in the 90s.
Bedoya argues that “those attacks will have an effect on Mendoza's support base in Lima, the capital, and in the upper classes but they are not likely to hurt her in those less wealthy areas where her support is growing exponentially.”