History is put to the vote in Peru
Daughter of jailed leader Fujimori is frontrunner in Sunday’s election
Gisela Ortíz has carried on her lapel a laminated photograph of her brother since 1992. In that year he was killed by one of the death squads for which former president Alberto Fujimori was imprisoned, along with other crimes including embezzlement and bribery, in Peru.
“It will be shameful for Peruvians to have another Fujimori in power,” she says.
This week, tens of thousands like Ms Ortíz took to the streets to rally against the former leader’s daughter, Keiko, the clear forerunner in the race to replace President Ollanta Humala in Sunday’s election.
Voters will not only cast judgment on the place of history in modern Peru. They will decide on how their country maintains its place as Latin America’s top major economic performer within a discredited political system.
The protests this week took place on the anniversary of the “auto-coup” when Fujimori dissolved congress and the judiciary and sent in tanks and soldiers. Demonstrators cried “Fujimori never again”, warning voters of the risks of electing the daughter of a man who fled to Japan and resigned by fax to avoid a corruption scandal and allegations of human rights violations.
“The mistakes her dad could have made belong to Peru’s history and cannot be repeated, just like a political phenomenon like him will not repeat itself. But we can have his daughter, who can draw from her father’s and her own political experience to lead us forward,” says Tito Ortíz, a Lima-based accountant.
For political scientist Cynthia Sanborn at Lima’s University of the Pacific: “To many the horrible internal violence of decades ago, the crimes of Shining Path and of Fujimori, were all just yesterday, but for some he was a saviour.”
Ms Fujimori has pledged to respect democracy, human rights, and “not to use political power to benefit any member of my family”.
Polls say the Columbia-trained congresswoman leads the race with roughly 35 per cent of the vote.
But her rejection rates are the highest among the leading contenders, and may even rise after someone
linked to her was named in the so-called Panama Papers.
Vying for second place in the race are Wall Street favourite, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, an Oxford-educated pro-business economist and former prime minister, and the “pink tide” choice Veronika Mendoza, a Sorbonne-educated leftwing anthropologist, congresswoman, and former ally of the first lady, Nadine Heredia.
That is because, the bank says, “neither candidate is likely to alter the current policy direction”.
Alternatively, one that pits Ms Fujimori against Ms Mendoza could send chills down investors’ spines, “heightening fears that Mendoza’s leftist ideology could lead to the implementation of anti-market policies”.
Marco Arana, a former priest who has been at the forefront of anti-mining protests in the region of Cajamarca and is now running as vice-president for Ms Mendoza, counters: “They call us anti-system terrorists who are enemies of investment [but] our main flag is democratic social and environmental justice.”
That may still bring uncertainty to one of the world’s top mining powerhouses, which is a major exporter to China. In the mid-2000s Peru’s economy, riding high on the commodity’s boom, became one of Latin America’s best performers, slashing poverty and growing at average rates of above 6 per cent.
It then slowed with the end of the supercycle, growing a sluggish 2.4 per cent in 2014. Last year it rebounded to 3.3 per cent, and the central bank forecasts the economy will expand 4 per cent in 2016, showing Peru is relatively resilient compared to other resource-driven regional economies, such as Brazil.
But the mining-fuelled advances have not strengthened institutions, leaving the country vulnerable to inefficiency, corruption and populism.
Confidence in the system was again undermined by the disqualification of candidates in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote. Julio Guzmán, once the second-placed candidate, was eliminated from the contest by an administrative error. He blames “the political establishment that has been governing the country for the past 30 years and is willing to impose on Peruvians their choice of convenience”.
At a time when the left is in retreat in the region as economies slow, Ms Mendoza has emerged as a viable candidate in Peru among those who either felt left out of the boom or reject the old guard.
According to Mr Kuczynski, his rivals are too extreme. “Peru does not want extremism,” says Mr Kuczynski.
Peru’s future, he says, lies “at the centre, with economic growth”.
Carolina Trivelli, a former minister now with the Institute of Peruvian Studies, believes that whoever becomes the next president must put Peru’s house in order: “We got along with highly precarious institutional and political systems for too long. But now that is limiting our economic development, so the bill is coming due.”