The election is being fought less on subjects like economic and foreign policy; the focus is the struggle between ‘Fujimorismo’ and a formless anti-Fujimorismo.
It has been a grueling two months since the first round of the Peruvian elections on April 10. Both presidential candidates, Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, or PPK, have since waged a dirty battle targeting personal issues, with less focus on serious topics like economic and foreign policy. This was anticipated, since both are right-of-centre candidates with similar political agendas – so similar that PPK strongly endorsed Keiko’s candidature in 2011.
This second round of elections has been uniquely Peruvian. It is unlike most election scenarios we are familiar with: it is not between two political parties (like in the US), two political ideologies (left versus right), two dynasties (like in Bangladesh), nor is it one-sided. This election is between ‘Fujimorismo,’ the ideology espoused by jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, and anti-Fujimorismo, a formless mishmash of millions of Peruvians with varying degrees of opposition to Fujimorismo.
What is Fujimorismo? As the name suggests, it is closely tied to the personality of Fujimori and the policies he implemented during the 1990s. Besides subscribing to a conservative ideology, Fujimorismo is essentially an anti-terrorist, anti-communist, pro-free market and pro-business movement. Critics also point to the neglect of state institutions and the unbridled use of force, exemplified by bodies like Grupo Colina, a state-backed death squad that reached its zenith in 1992.
It has been 15 years since Fujimori first fled Peru. Today, he is confined to a jail cell, serving Peru’s maximum sentence of 25 years for committing crimes against humanity. Yet, these elections are as much about him as they are about his daughter Keiko. This was emphasised multiple times through criticism levelled against Keiko for her father’s errors: will she continue to maintain a close relationship with her father’s former allies? Will she follow similar controversial social policies like forced sterilisations? Will she use state intelligence to target her opponents?
This constant probing provoked Keiko into defending herself at the last presidential debate. “The candidate is me, not my father,” she exclaimed. Still, her father’s legacy seems to benefit her candidature more than hamper it. She has substantially increased her vote share between 2011 and 2016, from 23.55% of the first-round vote in 2011 to 39.86% in 2016. Keiko won 1,033 districts (equivalent to a tehsil or taluka in India) in the first round in 2016, compared with just 46 for PPK. She has travelled tirelessly around Peru over the past five years, appealing to a broad spectrum of rural and urban voters.
Keiko’s formal opponent is PPK, a former cabinet minister whose work experience as an economist spans over 55 years – a full 14 years more than Keiko’s age. Yet, Keiko’s real opposition is not PPK. It is a concerted, nation-wide anti-Fujimorismo effort to spread awareness of the corrupt practices of the past Fujimori administration, including the links to drug trafficking, illegal commerce, tax evasion and human rights abuses. Much of this rhetoric has occurred naturally, without any prodding from PPK. The people themselves have morphed into an active opposition, on the streets, on social media, television, radio, film, and even through stand-up comics and internet memes.
Just a week before the election, numerous exposés have rocked Keiko’s candidature. Leaked audio recordings revealed that Joaquín Ramírez, a key leader of Keiko’s party, Fuerza Popular (Popular Force, or FP), is being investigated by the US Drug Enforcement Agency for allegations of links to drug trafficking. Other revelations point to her party’s questionable source of funds and allegations of money laundering. Moreover, candidates from the first round of elections, most importantly left-wing Verónika Mendoza, who captured just 2.3 percentage points less than PPK, have declared their opposition to Fujimorismo and endorsed PPK. In addition, thousands of Peruvians took to the streets on May 31 to protest against what they fear to be the imminent dangers of having another Fujimori in the presidential office.
Despite all this momentum against Keiko, polls give her a lead of between 4% and 6% for the final vote scheduled on June 5.
This presumed lead is owed to two chief reasons. Keiko has performed some incredible ‘trabajo de hormiga’ (on-the-ground work) over the past five years. Her name, and her party’s orange colour and logo are visible in all corners of Peru. This has helped widen her support base and fortify votes, especially in the remote areas that PPK hasn’t travelled to during his campaign.
PPK’s own errors – including his one-week absence while travelling to the US and his inability to forge a consensus amongst various anti-Fujimori groups – have also cost him dearly. The anti-Keiko vote will only get him so far. He will have to earn the remaining votes by convincing a reported 13.5% of undecided voters that he is the better choice. At this stage, it looks unlikely.
If Keiko wins, she will have free rein – her party already holds a majority in the country’s unicameral congress. What many liberals fear may also come true: Fujimori could be pardoned and released from jail. This has already been indicated by Cecilia Chacón, the FP’s first congressperson, when she declared that Fujimori will soon exit from the prison gates.
Even if PPK wins, he would find it difficult to control an FP-majority congress. He will have no choice but to acquiesce to the FP’s stipulations. Any resistance from PPK could be met with swift legislative actions and calls for popular protest.
But Peruvian elections are famed for their unpredictability. At this stage in the last elections in 2011, Keiko was projected to win against centre-left Ollanta Humala by most pollsters. The final result was 51.44% votes to Humala and 48.55% votes to Keiko.
Hari Seshasayee is a Latin America analyst. He tweets at @haricito.