Fujimori and Kuczynski neck-and-neck in Peru presidential runoff
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Peruvians head to the polls Sunday to elect their next president. Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a disgraced ex-president, is currently ahead of former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski by a razor-thin margin.
The most recent opinion polls show centre-right candidate Fujimori, 41, with 52 percent of the vote, despite her father Alberto Fujimori languishing in jail for ordering death squad killings and corruption during his time in office.
Kuczynski, a 77-year-old banker often referred to as PPK due to his initials, has eroded some of Fujimori’s lead in recent days, but has struggled to rally real support since the first round in April.
“PPK was a very bad candidate. He is not charismatic and was very slow to realise that he needed the support of the left to beat Fujimori,” Natalia Sobrevilla, a Peru politics expert at the University of Kent, told FRANCE 24.
But despite his shortcomings, PPK could still win Sunday’s ballot because of fervent opposition to the Fujimori family, the academic said.
“It’s still an open contest; it’s too close to call,” Sobrevilla said.
While Alberto Fujimori’s legacy is tainted with corruption, human rights abuses and undemocratic practices, many in Peru prefer to remember him for bringing hyperinflation and the violent insurgency of the 1990s under control.
“This will always guarantee his family underlying support,” explained Kurt Weyland, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on populism in Latin America.
“He also visited some areas of the country that no other president had visited. This is very typical of populist leaders; he made some of the most neglected members of society feel included. And that is why Keiko claims strong support among some very poor sectors of society today,” Weyland said.
But many in Peru are also unwilling to forget Fujimori senior’s excesses. Around 100,000 people marched in the streets of the capital Lima on May 31 to protest against Keiko Fujimori’s bid for the presidency, in what was the country’s biggest demonstration in years.
“It was a very politically diverse group of people, but they are all united in their common rejection of the Fujimori clan,” said Sobrevilla. “There is a large core of voters who believe that Keiko has to be stopped.”
In 2011, voters rallied around Ollanta Humala, a left-leaning populist, who beat Keiko Fujimori to win the election. Fear that she would champion the same kind of policies as her father resulted in her defeat, according to Sobrevilla.
“The same thing seems to be happening now. Voters on the left, and undecided voters, appear to be coalescing around PPK,” Sobrevilla believes.
Focus on crime
While concerns over the country’s economic model largely shaped the first round of the election, crime has been the main issue ahead of the runoff.
Peru’s strong economic growth in recent years has seen the emergence of a substantial middle class with considerable spending power.
“Members of that middle class have become the target of crime. Purse and phone snatchings have become a daily thing,” Sobrevilla said, explaining that there was a “general feeling of insecurity”.
The academic noted that crime had also become more violent in recent years with the expansion of the drug cartels.
Both Keiko Fujimori and Kuczynski are right-leaning economic liberals.
While the race is still too close to call, the results are sure to give Peru a new centre-right government, in what appears to be a regional political trend.
Elections in Argentina in November, and an ongoing presidential impeachment process in Brazil, have recently shifted power away from left-wing parties in Latin America’s two biggest countries.
University of Texas’ Weyland is nevertheless sceptical of drawing comparisons with Peru’s presidential election.
“[President Ollanta] Humala was not really a left-wing president. In office he was much closer to the governments of Chile and Colombia, so we can’t say this election has been a rejection of left-wing politics,” Wayland said.
“The results will have more to do with internal Peruvian politics than any broad trend,” he said.