As part of the regional turn against leftist populism in Latin America, Peru is currently heading towards a presidential run-off election on June 5th between two right-leaning candidates, Keiko Fujimori (40) of the Popular Force (Fuerza Popular) party and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (77) of the Peruvians for Change (Peruanos por el Kambio). Fujimori is perceived as the more conservative of the two, she has promised to crack down on crime and insecurity, while Kuczynski is more socially liberal. Both are committed to free markets and continuing Peru’s integration with the wider global economy; when it was announced that they were the final two candidates the Peruvian stock market jumped by 12 percent reflecting the business community’s concerns about another leftist president.
Fujimori though has a name that evokes negative memories in many Peruvians because Keiko Fujimori’s father Alberto Fujimori was Peru’s president turned authoritarian dictator from 1990 to 2000. Alberto Fujimori was ultimately impeached on charges of corruption and crimes against humanity and is currently less than halfway through a twenty-five year prison sentence for human rights violations, embezzlement and bribery.
The most serious of these charges, the human rights violations, carries a 25-year sentence and was imposed by the Peruvian Supreme Court on counts of involvement with death squads and at least 25 killings and kidnappings during Fujimori’s war against the leftist Shining Path guerrillas. While one might think that the Fujimori political brand would be irrevocably tarnished by Alberto Fujimori’s crimes it has survived. Many Peruvians credit Alberto Fujimori with weakening the Shining Path guerrillas and introducing macroeconomic stability to the country and he, and his daughter, remain popular in the countryside and among the poor.
Keiko Fujimori has promised to respect democratic order and said she will not pardon her father, but many do not believe her. While she narrowly lost the 2011 presidential election to current leftist Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, one of the military leaders responsible for removing Alberto Fujimori from office, she was leading this election until recently. She received the most votes in the first round, held on April 10th, taking almost 40 percent of the vote, while Kuczynski took almost 22 percent.
Fujimori though faces a much tougher election in the final round. A recent poll by Ipsos showed Kuczynski winning by seven points because the anti-Fujimori vote is coalescing around him regardless of their political leanings. Kuczynski was Peru’s Finance Minister and subsequently Prime Minister from 2004-2006. He was a World Bank and IMF economist and has published extensively on supply-side economics and said that as President he would be committed to implementing its tenets in Peru, namely lowering tax rates and deregulating markets. Unlike Fujimori he does not carry political baggage and voters think he would be tough on corruption.
The perception that the younger Fujimori is also corrupt has grown during the campaign. The Peruvian Electoral Board disqualified two of her presidential rivals ahead of the first round of voting on grounds that were criticized by President Ollanta Humala, and questioned by the European Union (EU) and the Organization of American States (OAS). Her closest rival was originally the economist Julio Guzman but his candidacy was voided when the Board claimed that his party violated its own rules when it selected him. The Board subsequently disqualified Cesar Acuna for handing out cash at a campaign event. While the charges against Acuña may seem legitimate, Fujimori herself was acquitted by the Board of the same charges. She reportedly distributed cash at a campaign event less than a week after Acuña was thrown out.
As anti-Fujimori protests have grown in Lima Keiko has tried to distance herself from her father’s legacy and has made a number of promises to Peru’s voters. For example, she said that no one with the last name Fujimori will run for president in 2021 and that she is committed to seeking one five-year term. Her younger brother, Kenji Fujimori who is also a Popular Force congressman, seemed to contradict this statement on April 25th when he said that if Keiko loses he will run for president in 2021. This did not help her cause and anti-Fujimori forces in Peru seem to be strengthening.
In addition to street protests prominent Peruvians, like Nobel Prize winning author and politician Mario Vargas Llosa, have endorsed Kuczynski. When he endorsed Kuczynski Vargas Llosa warned that Keiko’s candidacy would be a vindication of “one of the bloodiest and most corrupt dictatorships which Peru has ever seen.” It remains to be seen who wins on the 5th but regardless Peru seems poised to continue down the free-market path and the Fujimori political dynasty is far from finished.