Peru's powerful Fujimori siblings head for a split

Lima (AFP) –


Keiko Fujimori heads Peru's most influential party -- but risks seeing it split and her presidential ambitions dashed following a nasty spat with her brother Kenji, a popular fellow lawmaker who is also eyeing the presidency.

Keiko, 43, and Kenji, 38, are the politician children of former president Alberto Fujimori, the controversial leader who shaped Peruvian politics in the final decade of the 20th century. Two other siblings are not involved in politics.

Keiko, who heads Fuerza Popular (Popular Force), the largest party in Peru's single chamber legislature, is on the verge of having her supporters kick her younger brother out of Congress on corruption charges.

"Whether they expel him from Congress or not, Kenji will be a powerful candidate" in the 2021 presidential race, said political analyst Juan Carlos Tafur, a columnist with the weekly Somos.

Their father Alberto, the country's first ruler of Japanese ancestry who held power from 1990-2000 and turns 80 in July, has been unable to reconcile the split between Keiko, his oldest child, and Kenji, his youngest.

The controversial former president was handed a 25 year prison sentence in 2009 following a trial that found him guilty of corruption -- and of authorizing death squads during his "dirty war" with the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru leftist insurgencies.

The split between the siblings goes back to disagreements over how to get the patriarch out of prison.

Keiko -- who narrowly lost presidential runoff votes in 2011 and 2016 -- opposed a pardon, insisting that her father was innocent.

Critics say that it was politically convenient to keep her dad in prison, fearing that he would overshadow her within the party.

However her brother Kenji, a leading Popular Force member of Congress, was convinced that a pardon was the best solution.

- Controversial votes -

As part of his strategy, Kenji split with his sister and her supporters in their vehement opposition to then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

In late 2017 it seemed that the Popular Force lawmakers, who had already forced several of Kuczynski's cabinet ministers to resign, had cornered the president on corruption charges.

However when the impeachment vote came in December, Kenji and his loyalists provided the votes to save Kuczynski.

Days later Kuczynski pardoned Alberto Fujimori and released him from prison, in what appeared to be a blunt quid pro quo.

In the long run, however, Kuczynski did not survive. Dogged by tainted money doled out by the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, he resigned in March to avoid impeachment.

Kenji lobbied hard to again thwart the impeachment -- too hard, in fact, as he appeared on video trying to bribe a lawmaker.

He is now one step away from being booted out of Congress, after a legislative committee controlled by Keiko loyalists approved his dismissal on bribery charges.

Kenji has been elected twice to the chamber, both times with a higher number of votes than any other lawmaker -- and if he runs for president he "will take enough votes away from Keiko" to thwart her presidential ambitions, political analyst Tafur said.

But Keiko and her supporters also have a final twist of the knife up their sleeves: if they proceed to kick Kenji out, Congress could ban him from elected office for 10 years.

- In Nomine Patris -

In the popular imagination, forged in the late 1990s during the frightful war with the rebel groups, Alberto Fujimori is Peru's most successful president for having ended a period of hyperinflation and crushing the insurgencies.

Kenji at that time was a cute spoiled youngster, while Keiko became the acting first lady when the president divorced their mother, Susana Higuchi.

Fujimori supporters "will never forgive that Keiko is kicking her brother out of Congress because he saved their father with a pardon," said a senior old guard Fujimori supporter who declined to give his name.

Kenji supporters also accuse his sister of turning a moderately conservative yet populist party into a right-wing machine.

Alberto Fujimori holds onto hope that his children will iron out their differences, describing the rupture to reporters as "momentary."

Neither of the siblings, however, seem ready to give an inch.

Keiko recently turned on a reporter who suggested that the two had reached an agreement.

"That is absolutely false," she snapped. "I haven't spoken to my brother in months, months!"