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).
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.