For the second time in as many elections, it’s looking like Keiko Fujimori will narrowly lose a runoff to become Peru’s president.
With nearly 93% of the results counted, Fujimori was trailing behind economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the 77-year-old former banker and International Monetary Fund official who served briefly as prime minister in the 2000s. Kuczynski, widely known across Peru by his initials, ‘PPK,’ was winning 50.32% of the vote to just 49.68% for Fujimori.
Though we do not know the exact results, and we might not know them until later today or this week, all signs point to a narrow victory for PPK, who placed third in the 2011 presidential election (behind Fujimori) and who trailed Fujimori by double digits in the initial April vote. Indeed, for years, the 2016 election seemed like it was Fujimori’s to lose. Kuczynski, an internationalist who seemed more at home in Washington, D.C. than in the Andean highlands, is not exactly a natural on the campaign trail. He took an incomprehensible break from the runoff campaign to visit New York (where he attended his daughter’s graducation, but where he also gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, feeding the hype that he’s not ‘authentically’ Peruvian).
For Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the hardest part of Peru’s two-stage presidential election might be making it into June’s runoff.
It was no surprise that Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, a controversial figure now serving a prison sentence for human rights abuses during his time in office from 1990 to 2000, would win the first round of the election on Sunday.
Quick counts and initial results show that Fujimori, as predicted, easily won the first round with around 39.5% of the vote.
Kuczynski, nearly universally known as ‘PPK’ in Peru, was winning around 23.7% of the vote, enough to edge out the third-placed candidate, left-wing Verónika Mendoza, who was winning around 17.1% of the vote.
The results all but assure that Kuczynski will emerge as Fujimori’s challenger in the June 5 runoff — a choice that many Peruvians wanted in the 2011 election.
Five years ago, it was leftist Ollanta Humala who won the first round, while Fujimori placed second, eliminating Kuczynski from the runoff in what many voters considered a worst-case scenario. On one hand, they could support a former army officer with a spotty military record and with ties to the radical left; on the other hand, the daughter of an anti-democratic authoritarian.
PPK’s apparent victory over Mendoza this year means that the 2016 runoff will be far less ideological than the 2011 runoff, instead featuring two candidates who espouse the kind of orthodox economic views that have dominated Peruvian governance since since the 1990s (even, perhaps surprisingly, during the Humala administration).
One of the central policies of Keiko Fujimori’s campaign has been a promise to use some of Peru’s $8 billion ‘rainy-day’ fund to stimulate spending on infrastructure and other projects to develop rural Peru. That means she will, on economic matters at least, be running to the left of PPK, who has called for budget discipline and pro-business policies that include a modest sales tax cut. Both candidates have signaled that they want to curb Peru’s growing coca production, and both candidates want to work to give local communities a greater share of profits from gold and copper mining that have boosted the Peruvian economy.
In 2011, Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa famously compared the choice his country’s electorate faced as a choice between AIDS and cancer.
Five years later, one of those choices from that election, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former authoritarian president (now serving in prison for corruption), now leads the country’s April 10 vote by double digits. Ollanta Humala, who defeated Fujimori five years ago, once feared as a militarist left-wing firebrand and a chavismo sympathizer, is leaving office widely derived and haunted by corruption, even after hewing to a middle-road path.
Though Humala will step down with as poor of an approval rating as his most recent predecessors, the biggest surprise of his presidency is that he ultimately chose to follow a center-right, business-friendly path in line with the past two decades of Peruvian governance. Humala will leave office, to the dismay of his one-time left-wing supporters, as a defender of neoliberal economics who stood, often with the force of Peru’s military, against striking workers and miners across the country. Though Humala himself is a former army officer, he failed to contain the growth of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a Maoist guerrilla operation that’s made modest gains in southern Peru over Humala’s administration, despite its near eradication a generation ago.
As of February, Humala has also been implicated in Brazil’s widening corruption inquiry, amid allegations from Brazilian police that Humala may have taken bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm. His wife, Nadine Heredia, who once harbored ambitions of succeeding Humala herself, is also under investigation for corruption.
It’s no wonder that, once again, in an election year, Peruvians are looking for a change.
A referendum on a father’s complex legacy
Fujimori, for her part, has positioned herself well since the last election. The frontrunner to win Sunday’s presidential, she is nevertheless unlikely to secure the presidency outright. More likely, Fujimori will face the second-placed candidate in a June 5 runoff.
Still, the prospect of an easy double-digit win for Fujimori spawned a wave of popular protest across the country this week, a sign of the tumult that might follow in the two-month runoff campaign as anti-Fujimori forces coalesce behind a single challenger. Nearly 30,000 flooded the streets of Lima, Peru’s capital, earlier this week in opposition to her candidacy. Protesters worry that a Fujimori victory (either now or in June) will restore the same authoritarianism and corruption that marked the decade of rule under her father, Alberto Fujimori, between 1990 and 2000.
Jacob Bathanti, a Latin American scholar who blogs occasionally from Lima, where he’s working this summer, considers the similarities between Humala (pictured above, right) and his leftist military predecessor Juan Velasco Alvarado (pictured above, left), and also to Fernando Belaúnde. But he also places Humala within an even broader tradition — here, in one sentence, he’s encapsulated mainstream Peruvian policy from much of the past half-century:
Official Lima, in so many manifestations, has always seethed with anxiety over these people, what they might do next (when it isn’t ignoring them). Humala’s big idea seems to be to resist the temptation to ignore the highlands, to push a broad economic integration into the national prosperity, satisfying the economic needs of those most likely to revolt – because it is in their nature, because they are sick of poverty, because to revolt is unfortunately at the moment justified, heck, pick a reason – before they revolt again.
But with three years left to go in his presidential term, Humala remains in many ways a chimera whose once-leftist rhetoric has dissolved into a presidency that seems to have no prevailing ideology. That’s why it’s so tantalizing to look back to the Velasco years as a template for what Humala may yet try to accomplish — will he take up Velasco’s primary cause of pushing the fruits of Perú’s economic boom further down to the country’s poorest citizens? Perú is somewhat remarkable among Latin American countries in that party identification remains incredibly weak, there’s no strong center-left and center-right party as such, and leaders easily slip from left to right and back again. Humala’s predecessors, Alan García and Alejandro Toledo, both had their fair share of chameleonic moments in public life.
What Jacob writes comes as close to articulating, in one sentence, Perú’s prevailing 21st century ideology as I’ve ever read, and it really applies to just about every government in recent Peruvian history, except perhaps two. The first is García’s first presidency from 1985 to 1990, which was a hyperinflationary socialist economic disaster. The second is the authoritarian presidency of Alberto Fujimori from 1990 to 2000, which began amid a low-grade civil war against the communist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).
I find the comparison to Velasco particularly intriguing because it’s so rare that an army coup results in a leftist military-led government in Latin American history, and the similarities to Humala, the once-radical military man are simply too great to ignore. In 2000, Humala led a short-lived anti-corruption revolt from within the military against Fujimori. As it turns out, the revolt fizzled, Fujimori fled shortly thereafter and Humala was pardoned, but the similarities are hard to miss. In the 2006 presidential campaign, Humala often cited Velasco as a political touchstone and even went so far as to say that his administration would finish the work that Velasco’s started.
Like Velasco and many before him, Humala is trapped between meeting the needs of a business elite that has kept GDP growth humming along (an elite that largely supported his opponent Keiko Fujimori in the June 2011 presidential race) and a restless majority still trapped in poverty (that largely placed its hopes in Humala). The Peruvian economy is likely to dip to just 6% growth this year — still high, but troubled by slack Chinese growth, flat prices for gold, copper, oil and other commodities that comprise over two-thirds — but protests over Humala’s performance in office continue, and polls show that his popularity has declined from over 50% earlier this year to just 33% this summer.
July 28 marked the one-year anniversary of Ollanta Humala (pictured above) as Perú’s new president — and it was marked by the appointment of Humala’s third prime minister since taking office.
The fear that many Peruvians had about Humala’s administration turned out to be a non-issue — whereas many Peruvians once feared that Humala would disrupt a decade-plus of staggering economic growth by turning Perú toward charisma nationalism. Although the Peruvian economy keeps chugging along, however, social unrest has turned out to be a thornier problem for Humala.
The 2011 presidential campaign ended in a runoff between the two most polarizing candidates among five plausible presidents: the leftist Humala, the 2006 runner-up and a former Army officer, and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, Perú’s president in the 1990s. Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian Nobel laureate, famously compared the choice as being akin to terminal cancer and AIDS — despite reservations about Humala, Peruvians also worried that Fujimori would pardon her father, currently in prison for committing embezzlement and for committing human rights abuses during his time in office, unleashing demons from an era that many Peruvians would rather not revisit.
When Humala won by a 3% margin, however, he moved quickly to assure Peruvians that he wouldn’t disrupt the booming economy, promptly appointing as his finance minister Luis Miguel Castilla, a deputy finance minister from the previous administration of Alan García. Far from nationalizing Peruvian industry, Humala has essentially left economic policy unchanged from his predecessors of the past decade.
Those resignations were also, in part, a response to a December reshuffle that brought Oscar Valdés — an army officer and former military colleague of Humala’s — to power as prime minister. His appointment caused several prominent leaders, including former president Alejandro Toledo, to decry the growing militarization of the Humala administration.
Valdés’s resignation last week, and his replacement by Peruvian justice and human rights minister Juan Jiménez, seems calibrated to adjust to many of those criticisms, which are tied to some of Humala’s biggest problems. Jiménez had increasingly become a key troubleshooter for Humala, especially in contrast to the increasingly unpopular Valdés.