Nonparty Organizations

Peru Table of Contents

The rapid rise of Cambio reflected a more far-reaching phenomenon in Peru: the growth of extrasystem democratic political activity. In conjunction with the rise in economic importance of the informal sector was a rise in activity and importance of a host of "informal" political groups: neighborhood organizations, communal kitchens, popular economic organizations, and nongovernment organizations. Although originating largely outside the realm of traditional parties and politics, these groups became critical actors in local-level democratic politics. Usually autonomous and democratic in origin and structure, they were often wary of political parties, which attempted to co-opt them, or at least to elicit their support for wider-reaching political goals. These organizations were primarily concerned with micro-level survival issues, such as obtaining basic services like water and electricity. They tended to support political parties as a convenient way to attain their goals, but just as easily withdrew that support when it did not provide tangible ends. They had a tendency, but by no means a constant one, to vote for parties of the left. This could be explained in part by the Peruvian left's approach to grassroots movements, which was usually--but not always--less sectarian and hierarchical than that of traditional parties, such as APRA.

Thus, the relations that informal groups had with political parties were by no means simple or clear-cut. As the varied results from the 1980-90 elections demonstrate, the urban poor had a tendency, which was not without shifts, to vote for the left. They had few binding ties to political parties, and were quite willing to vote for nonparty actors, from Manuel A. Odrķa (president, 1948-50, 1950-56) in the 1950s to Ricardo Belmont (as mayor of Lima in 1989) and Fujimori in 1990. Because the urban poor's need for basic services was so grave, their vote was most often determined by the most credible promise for basic-service delivery. Broader political goals of the parties were only a concern once basic needs had been met. Still, the gap between these groups and parties was significant. Parties play a role in virtually all consolidated democracies, and the difficulties of governing a fragmented society and polity such as Peru's became increasingly evident as the Fujimori government was forced to implement unpopular economic policies in the absence of an organized political base.

Electoral defeats usually trigger internal party changes and democratization. In 1990 all Peruvian parties faced electoral losses. The parties were well aware of the need to reform in order to remain politically viable entities. In early 1991, the Christian Democrats, for example, launched a process of internal party reform and an evaluation of their relations with groups where their support base was weak, such as the shantytowns. The left underwent a process of ideological and strategic reflection at approximately the same time. Most of the other political parties likely would have followed suit. To the extent that parties failed to reform to adapt to new political realities and to the needs and strategies of the plethora of grassroots groups and local organizations in Peru, a crisis of representation in Peruvian democracy, if and when it was restored, appeared more likely for the foreseeable future, threatening its viability.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress