Toledo: No Longer the People’s Choice?

Alejandro Toledo
Alejandro Toledo waves to photographers, March 23, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

Less than a year into his hard-won presidential mandate, Alejandro Toledo is reaping a bitter harvest of popular discontent. In the view of many Peruvians, he has failed to fulfill his ambitious campaign pledges to lift Peru’s impoverished masses from a historical cycle of underdevelopment, inadequate education and health care, and social inequity. The leading Lima magazine Caretas (Feb. 21) reported that Toledo’s approval rating in a national public-opinion survey fell by more than one-half in the first six months of his presidency to 27 percent, while his disapproval rating soared to 65 percent.

“Discontent with the management of President Toledo appears to have spanned the length and breadth of the country....What’s more, disapproval of the chief executive in the interior of the country,” including indigenous regions that supported Toledo strongly in the 2001 election, “exceeds that registered in Lima,” Caretas observed. The free fall in the president’s popular support is “alarming for the regime and for democratic stability,” Caretas noted.

Toledo sought to recapture the political initiative in early March by persuading representatives of Peru’s major political parties, the Catholic Church, business, labor, and civic organizations to join the government in discussions aimed at reaching a formal national accord on fundamental policy issues, ranging from anti-poverty and job-creation programs to the  strengthening of democratic institutions.

The business daily Gestión wrote in an editorial (March 7) that the government aimed “to reach agreements that will serve as a basis for the consolidation of democracy, the affirmation of national identity, and the design of a shared vision of the country’s future.” Gestión expressed hope that the effort to build a national consensus represented “the start of a stage that can change the...course of the country.”

Commenting on the recent wave of roadblocks and strikes, an editorial in El Diario del Cusco (March 6) attributed the present political crisis to an outpouring of pent-up popular frustrations repressed during the regime of former President Alberto Fujimori, now a fugitive from Peruvian justice. “Today everyone is dissatisfied...everyone is yearning for social justice,” the editorial said. El Diario del Cusco criticized opposition leaders who have sought to exploit social unrest for short-term political gains. “For a great number of these politicians, what matters is not Peru but only their party and their political mission,” the editorial contended.

liberal weekly newsmagazine, Lima
business-oriented, Lima
El Diario del Cusco
independent, Cuzco
conservative, Lima

But Lima-based Expreso asserted in an editorial (March 11) that Toledo himself must bear much of the blame for failing to chart a clear policy course in the first year of his presidency. “Your popularity is as it is,” Expreso admonished the president, “because Peruvians do not perceive leadership on your part, and they sense that perhaps behind this, there is no genuine will to go anywhere, only a desire to keep things as they are.”