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Scandal overshadows Peru election's focus on gender equality

Dan Collyns in Lima

Scandals involving domestic violence and marital infidelity have overshadowed the campaign to elect a new congress in Peru, in which gender equality and women’s rights have been key issues.

Peruvians will elect 130 new lawmakers on Sunday after the previous chamber was dissolved by President Martín Vizcarra in a controversial but popular move in September.

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Vizcarra invoked a constitutional procedure to shutter the opposition-dominated congress, claiming it was blocking anti-corruption reforms that had been overwhelmingly approved in a referendum in 2018.

But while polls show more than 80% of Peruvians support Vizcarra’s move, that may fail to carry over in the vote as scandals among his closest ideological supporters have tainted a shambolic campaign.

With at least 12 feminist and four LGBT candidates running for office, gender equality and gay rights has never been so prominent in a Peruvian election, said Rossina Guerrero of the sexual rights NGO Promsex.

“There are more openly gay and feminist candidates than in previous elections. We believe that their political participation has put the issue of discrimination and homophobia on the table,” she said.

But the Partido Morado one of the political parties with the most pro-equality and diverse candidates – has become embroiled in scandal as it emerged one of its founders, Daniel Mora, was reported to the police for domestic violence by his wife, Lilia Jaureguy, in March 2019.

Furthermore, the party’s leader and co-founder Julio Guzmán was roundly rejected by Peru’s Feminist Movement after CCTV images from 2018 emerged appearing to show him fleeing a fire in an apartment where he was about to share a romantic lunch with a young woman from his party ranks who was not his wife.

Alberto De Belaunde, one of the youngest and first openly gay lawmakers in the previous congress, who is now running as a candidate for the party, said gender violence was “non-negotiable” and Mora was immediately kicked out.

Supporters of congressional candidates gather outside the location of the candidates’ debate in Lima on Sunday. Photograph: Martín Mejía/AP

“This is not only the campaign with most openly LGBT candidates but it’s also the campaign with the most candidates linked to evangelist churches with an anti-rights discourse,” De Belaunde, 33, told the Guardian.

“There is not a single candidate who does not have a position on the issue. Three years ago that was unthinkable,” he added.

Several candidates have described Peru’s increasing femicide figures (2019 saw 166 cases – the highest since record-keeping began 10 years ago) as a humanitarian crisis.

Arlette Contreras, 29, who became the face of Peru’s first Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) march in 2016, is now running for the leftist Frente Amplio party on a gender equality platform.

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Contreras was thrust into the spotlight when images of her being dragged by the hair through a hotel reception by her naked ex-boyfriend went viral in Peru. Last year, her attacker was sentenced to 11 years for attempted femicide but absconded while on probation.

“Win or lose, this campaign is raising awareness about gender violence which is claiming women’s lives – and the figures continue to rise,” she said.

Voter concerns continue to be topped by corruption, for 63% of Peruvians, followed closely by violence and crime, according to a recent poll.