By Cecilia Remón
Almost 40 percent of the more than 21 million voters in Peru casted their votes for Keiko Fujimori Higuchi, of Fuerza Popular, also known as “fujimorismo,” in the first round that took place on April 10 to elect the next president who will govern the country until 2021. Second place was won by neoliberal candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, of Peruanos Por el Kambio party, with 20.1 percent of the votes, according to official results.
After learning of the first results, Fujimori Higuchi, 40, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who in 2009 was sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and violations of human rights, told her followers that “this new political map clearly shows that Peru yearns for reconciliation; the country does not want more conflict. We are going to work with that look to the future.”
Because she did not exceed the 50 percent of the votes, Fujimori Higuchi will compete for the presidency with Kuczynski in a runoff to be held on Jun. 5.
According to the figures given by the National Organization of Electoral Processes (ONPE), leftist congresswoman Verónika Mendoza, of the Frente Amplio, came in third place getting 18.8 percent of the vote. Trailing behind were Alfredo Barnechea, of Acción Popular, with 6.9 percent, and former president Alan García (1980-1985 and 2006-2011), candidate of the Alianza Popular — a coalition of the Partido Aprista and the Partido Popular Cristiano — who received only 5.8 percent of the vote.
Only 10 candidates of a total of 19 who registered to become candidates and participate in the presidential elections were left after Julio Guzmán and César Acuña were excluded from the electoral process — t he former for irregularities in the registration of his party Todos por el Peru, and the latter who was disqualified for giving money to a proselytizing event of his Alianza para el Progreso party, which is prohibited by law — and after seven others who decided to retire during the campaign due to low voter intention.
For US analyst Steven Levitsky, a columnist for the La República newspaper, “if she wants to reach 50 percent of the vote needed to win the run-off election, Keiko has to convince a sector of the electorate that is not fujimorista that she does not represent a return to the mafia and authoritarian practices of the 90s.”
However, there is no evidence that this will happen. “Keiko’s strategy is based on a promise. She asks the electorate to trust her word,” Levitsky said.
Little credible commitments
At the end of the pre-election debate held on Apr. 3, Fujimori Higuchi presented an “honor commitment with Peru,” by which she is committed to the utmost respect of the democratic order and human rights, to respect and protect the freedom of the press and individual expression, to fight to root out corruption, respecting the separation of powers and to not use political power to benefit her family members and appoint the opposition to lead the Control and Intelligence Commissions of Congress.
Fujimori also promises to enhance the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — that investigated the political violence that plagued Peru between 1980 and 2000 —, compensate the victims of violence and those women affected by the reproductive health program, to respect the term limits established by the Constitution, and finally “never again an April 5,” referring to the coup perpetrated by her father in 1992 in which he closed Congress and intervened the judiciary, initiating a regime that thrived on corruption and human rights violations.
Surveys released to the foreign press on Apr. 8 — the electoral law prohibits the publication of national surveys seven days before the elections — revealed that there is a strong rejection among voters to vote for Fujimori Higuchi, referred to as “antivoto”.
According to Alfredo Torres, of the consulting group Ipsos, Fujimori Higuchi was the candidate most rejected by voters (people who would definitely not vote for her) reaching 51 percent of the respondents.
This “antivoto” was evidenced in the “No a Keiko” march held through the center of Lima organized via the social networks, which gathered more than 50,000 people who mobilized on Apr. 5 commemorating the 24th anniversary of the coup of then President Fujimori in 1992.
Representatives of the four major pollsters in the country — Ipsos, CPI, GfK and Datum — admitted at a press conference to foreign correspondents that “the counter-campaign against Keiko Fujimori did have an effect on the outcome.” The polls released gave Fujimori Higuchi between 37 percent and 40 percent of voter intentions, while the polls published before the elections gave her 43 percent of voter preference.
The campaign for the runoff will be centered between the fujimorismo and antifujimorismo. The first results show that Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular will have absolute control of Congress with 71 of 130 Congressmen, while Frente Amplio will have 20 legislators and Peruanos Por el Kambio, 18. The remaining seats will be split between Acción Popular (5), Alianza Popular (5) and Alianza para el Progreso (11).
The role of the left
Kuczynski, a staunch defender of the neoliberal model, will have to offer olive branches to the Frente Amplio, as the support of voters on the left will be key to defeat Fujimori in the runoff.
The Frente Amplio won overwhelmingly in the departments of the southern Andes, particularly those most poverty-stricken and those most affected by the armed conflict that developed between 1980 and 2000, areas where the most terrible human rights violations were committed both by the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and by agents of the State.
Mendoza, in her speech on election night, said the Frente Amplio “is the front of the people, it was born to stay, it was born to make history.”
“We are the second political force in the country,” she stated. “The Peruvian people have entrusted us to be a strong opposition and in an oversight role, and that will be our role from now on; not only in Congress, but in all citizens spaces. We will be watchful to any act of injustice or intention of sharing out or weakening of our institutions.”
Political scientist Alberto Vergara, in statements to the newspaper El Comercio, warned of the risk that a control by the fujimorismo of the executive and legislative branches would pose.
“The fujimorismo is a movement that lived in power with an Executive Branch that completely subdued the Legislative Branch and whose root is to boast of its effectiveness, not of its democratic process. In that sense, the concentration of power, that there is a lack of balance from the legislature, is a clear danger. The Peruvian right-wing will demand from Keiko Fujimori to act with immediacy, and to implement large mining projects by any means possible. In that scenario, that it [fujimorismo] has a dominance of such magnitude on Congress constitutes a real danger.”
“Keiko has to continue to insist that her government will not be her father’s, but that discourse is very difficult to believe,” said sociologist Ricardo Cuenca to the Argentine newspaper Página 12. “If she does not change her discourse that is highly conservative and neoliberal, and distant from problems such as inequality, Keiko will not get, regardless of the antifujimorismo sentiment, the votes of those who found in Verónika Mendoza and Barnechea a space to voice their grievances regarding inequality. Although the discourse of Kuczynski is not progressive, I think he may, more easily than Keiko, be able to change his speech and address these issues of inequality.”
The Frente Amplio, meanwhile, believes that the return of the fujimorismo is the worst that can happen to the country, but it is also unwilling to give its unconditional support to Kuczynski. The left would present him an agenda that includes waging a strong fight against corruption, to ensure that Alberto Fujimori is not released from prison, the renegotiation of the gas contracts that favor exports, to guarantee labor rights and not to privatize the water supply, among other demands.