Peruvians will vote on the creation of political macroregions in several areas of the country on Sunday, but the upcoming referendum has also turned into a test of the government's popularity.
Political experts expect that President Alejandro Toledo's initiative to create five regional governments from 16 of the country's 24 departments will fail due to his low popularity rating.
"In my opinion, the government has chosen an inappropriate time for this kind of thing," political analyst Mirko Lauer told The Associated Press. Presidential elections scheduled for April 2006 are an obstacle, Lauer said because the referendum's timing "is converting it into some kind of plebiscite, where if there is a vote in favor, the government wins, and if there is a vote against, the opposition wins."
Toledo's popularity ratings have hovered close to single digits for most of the past two years.
Peru's 24 departments, similar to U.S. states, were created in early 2003 as part of a decentralization process pushed by Toledo's administration. In this latest initiative for the creation of macroregions, the central government aims to increase the political and economic power of the new regional governments as their financial resources would be pooled.
So far, the central government has not detailed the legal framework for this transition, which has led to mounting criticism in Congress in recent weeks.
Opposition led by the left-leaning Aprista Party headed by former President Alan Garcia complained that the referendum was being carried out in an improvised manner and that voters were not provided with sufficient information.
In Thursday's session, the opposition blocked a government initiative trying to make last-minute changes to vote counting regulations. As a result, votes in favor of the creation of macroregions must exceed 50 percent of all votes including null and blank ballots for the measure to pass.
All departments grouped in each macroregion must vote in favor of the initiative for it to be valid, reported AP.