The Weight of Political Baggage: Elections in Peru

Yesterday marked the final day of campaigning ahead of Sunday’s presidential second round run-off in Peru. The contest pits the Popular Force (FP) candidate Keiko Fujimori – daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori – against Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and his Peruvians for Change (PPK) party.

At face value, the result should be a foregone conclusion. In the first round of elections in April, Ms. Fujimori gained a healthy 39.9% percent of the popular vote in contrast her rival’s 21%. For even the most determined of underdogs, this looks like an unbridgeable gap. Yet recent weeks of campaigning have seen a shift – a wave of protests against Fujimori’s potential election seem to be translating into momentum at the ballot box, with the FP lead whittled down to a more rocky 5%.

The reasons for this swing are a little more complex than mere day-to-day politics. The late surge against Ms. Fujimori is a reaction not so much to her as a politician but as a political brand – her status as her father’s daughter and the figurehead of Fujimorista politics in Peru.

Fujimorismo comes with more than a little baggage. Named for Alberto Fujimori – the president who ruled Peru as an “elected autocrat” from 1990 to 2000 – the movement encompasses a body of policies ranging from staunch – usually violent – anti-communism and pro-free market principles to a tendency for top-down decision-making and a penchant for cronyism. Mr Fujimori himself is currently serving a 25 year prison sentence for embezzlement and organization of the notorious Grupo Colina paramilitaries.

For better or for worse, Peruvians at large still associate competent but hard-line governance with the Fujimori name. For her part, Keiko has sought to distance herself from her father and mark herself out as her own politician. Yet she would be unwise to sever all links entirely: Many in Peru attribute the defeat of Maoist Sendero Luminoso guerrillas and the stabilisation of the country to the tough stance of successive FP governments; many more acknowledge that the pro-business policies of her father laid the foundations for economic success, producing consistent growth in a region that has struggled of late.

But as with any political dynasty, old habits die hard. In Peru, the cronyism of the father is mirrored in the alleged corruption of the daughter’s FP team. Only as recently as two weeks ago, FP Secretary General Joaquín Ramírez Gamarra stepped down amid allegations that he laundered funds for the Fujimori presidential bid. Investigations are ongoing.

In light of the above, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Fujimorismo is a contentious topic in Peru, a continuation of the age-old debate on the fine line between pragmatism and authoritarianism. The upshot is that Mr Kuczynski can rely on a substantial block of votes simply by not being a Fujimori; whether that will be enough to put him in power is a different matter.

Addendum: As an aside, another interesting aspect of this election is the lack of a challenge from the political left. For his campaign in 2011, incumbent president Ollanta Humala brought together the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), a conglomeration of disparate parties on the left of national politics. In 2016, voters are choosing between the Popular Force – a party historically unsympathetic to left-wing causes that took a limp-wristed approach to social policy during its previous spell in government – and Mr Kuczynski, a former investment bank, World Bank and mining executive now leading a mixed bag of religious conservatives and economic liberals. Peru’s elections are another sign that the Pink Tide is ebbing.

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