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Fujimori legacy weighs on daughter’s presidential bid

Luka Gonzales, AFP | Peru´s presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori arrives under heavy security at a polling station in Lima on April 10, 2016.

The daughter of ex-president Alberto Fujimori has won the first round of presidential elections in Peru, once again drawing attention to the murky legacy that landed the former strongman in prison.


Keiko Fujimori won 39 percent of votes cast on Sunday with more 90 percent of ballots counted, according to the country's National Electoral Board. That put the centre-right candidate more than 18 points ahead of her nearest rival, but not far enough ahead to avoid a second-round poll on June 5.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski secured 21 percent support, making the former World Bank economist the contender in the upcoming presidential runoff. Left-wing candidate Veronika Mendoza won 19 percent of the votes, official results showed.

“Keiko has campaigned tirelessly since 2011 and the results are very clear,” Dr Natalia Sobrevilla, a Peru expert at the University of Kent, told FRANCE 24 by telephone, adding that she successfully replicated her father’s populist strategy and exploited the political structures he built.

For months opinion polls have shown Keiko Fujimori, 40, as the frontrunner of the elections, but they also reveal that she will struggle to claim victory in a second round.

A survey by the public opinion firm Ipsos on April 3 showed that she was on course to win 41 percent of votes. But the same study said that she would lose a hypothetical runoff against Kuczynski.

While she has rallied wide support, the congresswoman also counts high disapproval ratings, with nearly half of people surveyed saying that they would never vote for someone associated with Alberto Fujimori.

Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran and lost against Fujimori senior in presidential elections in 1990, has been among her critics.

“It would be alarming that voters somehow legitimised Fujimori’s dictatorship retroactively by handing over power to his daughter,” the famous writer told Spanish radio COPE last month.

The Peruvian ‘dictator’

Tens of thousands of people marched last week against Keiko Fujimori in Lima, provincial capitals and cities around the world, warning that her potential triumph would bring back her father’s authoritarian rule.

Sentenced in 2009, Alberto Fujimori is currently serving out a 25-year term behind bars for corruption and death squad killings in 1991 and 1992.

Seven years ago Peruvian judges found that he authorised the creation of the infamous Grupo Colina commando as his government battled leftwing guerrillas. The group carried out extrajudicial killings of Shining Path militants, but also trade unionists and political activists with no direct links to the armed insurgency.

Fujimori was specifically put on trial for the Barrios Altos and Universidad La Cantuta operations, in which the Colina unit murdered 25 civilians.

Vargas Llosa and others refer to him as a dictator for his infamous self-coup in April 1992.

“He brought down Congress and ruled by decree with the support of the military,” Sobrevilla noted. He rewrote the constitution and allowed himself to be re-elected in 1995.

Fujimori’s grip on power was unbroken between 1990 and 2000, when he fled to Japan four months into his third term after allegations of embezzlement and corruption unravelled his administration. He has also been convicted of ordering wiretaps and bribing politicians, journalists and businessmen.

Not her father

This is Keiko Fujimori’s second presidential run. In 2011 she earned a much smaller 21 percent support in the first round, and eventually lost to Ollanta Humala in the ensuing runoff.

“Keiko learned important lessons from the last election,” Sobrevilla said in explaining the candidate’s political surge.

The scholar said Keiko Fujimori still faces an uphill battle to win the runoff, but so far has managed to simultaneously appeal to her father’s loyal base and distance herself from his troubled legacy.

“She has been very good at reminding people what ‘Fujimorismo’ was about, and that is giving people what they lacked,” but has also “made overtures to the centre” by recognising some of the errors committed during her father’s tenure, noted Sobrevilla.

In the effort to blur the daughter-father ties she has also prevented his former political aides from running for Congress as part of her Fuerza Popular party, while surrounding herself with a new generation of politicians untainted by her father’s regime.

Finally, she has recanted past claims that she would pardon her father if elected to lead the country.

On the last presidential debate on April 3, she went as far as signing a pledge that she would avoid her father’s authoritarian ways.

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