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Twisted Democracies

In many democracies, particularly in Latin America, well-meaning reforms intended to enhance democracy have achieved just the opposite, with governments that are strong on paper but weak in practice. And with each election cycle, citizen rage is brought ever-closer to the boiling point.

LONDON – Pedro Castillo is an authoritarian left-wing populist without the charm or charisma of most populists. Keiko Fujimori is a recently incarcerated right-wing populist, the daughter of a former dictator who is serving a 25-year sentence for murder, kidnapping, and corruption. Together, Castillo and Fujimori received fewer than one in three votes in the recent first round of Peru’s presidential election. Yet one of them will be the next president.

This much is certain: whoever wins the runoff will have a hard time governing. Castillo’s Perú Libre party has only 37 of the 130 congressional seats. Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular has just 24. She might just manage to assemble a majority because three other rightist parties have 45 seats among them. But compromise and coalition-building are not what Peruvian politics is about. Most parties are shells built around a single leader’s transient popularity. They spend their time and energy shooting down every other politician who tries to govern. That is what Fujimori and her party did to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who narrowly defeated her in 2016, and to Martín Vizcarra, who became president after Kuczynski resigned in 2018.

Ecuador, on Peru’s northern border, is in a similar bind. Guillermo Lasso, a conservative banker, will become president after a narrow runoff victory over Andrés Arauz, a left-leaning economist and close associate of Rafael Correa, the former president recently sentenced to eight years in jail for graft. But Lasso’s CREO party will have just 12 votes in the 137-seat congress, which could rise to 31 if he can count on the support of the center-right Social Christians. By contrast, Correa’s party has 48 seats, and Pachakutik, an indigenous people’s movement whose candidate came in a close third in the presidential race, has 27.