Peru Elections Near: A Look at the Candidates

Part I: Keiko Fujimori

By Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers

With Peru’s second round elections less than two weeks away, the likely outcome is still anybody’s guess. Several polls now show Keiko Fujimori with a slight lead over Ollanta Humala, but taking into account the margins of error of the polls —as well as the fact that many do not reflect the rural vote— the fact is that there is a statistical dead heat between the two candidates. Keiko polls between 41 and 45 percent of the vote, with Humala at 39 to 41 percent. There are a large number of undecided voters, around 8 percent, and a not insignificant number of voters, between 7 to 12 percent, who say they will vote for neither candidate or will spoil their ballot. Interestingly, pollsters note that up to 30 percent of those approached have refused to respond to election surveys.

Keiko Fujimori’s poll numbers reveal that she has effectively gone beyond her traditional political base (which as we noted in a previous post has been steady since 2008 at around 20 percent) and has a real chance of winning the presidency on June 5. While doubts about Humala’s commitment to democracy and human rights are real enough, they pale in comparison to the setbacks that are likely should Fujimori take office. Given the legacies of fujimorismo it seems crucial to unpack the reasons behind support for Keiko Fujimori beyond her traditional support base.

Varias personas corren de trás de un camión que reparte regalitos de la campaña de Keiko Fujimori. Foto de La República.

Vote-buying. Following in the tradition of her father, Keiko Fujimori has engaged in massive vote-buying schemes, giving away food, toasters and other household items, calendars (featuring her father’s image!), coffee mugs and the like, around the country.  Dánae Rivadenery, a journalist at the collective blogger site La Mula, broke a story about well-off women in Lima drumming up support from their friends and family to donate money and foodstuffs to such vote-buying campaigns to favor Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy. While some say this is a common practice in Latin America, it is important to remember that this practice reached extreme levels under the Fujimori regime in the 1990s. During the 2000 elections campaign, for example, over 50 percent of all Peruvians received food aid from the Fujimori government.

Elite support. In the current electoral climate, Peru’s conservative economic elite has clearly opted to support Keiko Fujimori. Apart from some notable exceptions, such as Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who has been a vigorous critic of Keiko Fujimori because he says it would lead to a return to the Fujimori mafia that so denigrated Peruvian democracy and institutions in the 1990s, the right has decided that their interests are better served under Fujimori than Humala. In particular, they fear that Humala will veer from the free-market economic policies that have served them so well in the past two decades. But beyond that, according to the highly respected sociologist Julio Cotler, as revealed by the virulent campaign being waged against Humala and his followers, Peru’s white elite fears a loss of status that an election by a middle-class mestizo who promises to redistribute wealth to poor urban and rural Peruvians would represent.

Fear-mongering. Fujimori supporters are using every tool at their disposal to depict Humala as an acolyte of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. As in 2006, a virulent campaign against Humala has been waged with the explicit intention of stoking fear and convincing voters not to cast their ballots in his favor. Charges of a Chavez-Castro takeover should Humala win, of a return to the state-led nationalizations and property confiscations of the Velasco era, of a Chavez-style assault on democracy, etc., have sought to discredit the Humala candidacy and favor Fujimori. One of the most outrageous examples of this came last Sunday when Peruvian Cardinal and Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani —a member of Opus Dei and long-time Fujimori supporter— openly criticized Humala in his homily.

Clear media bias.  In the aftermath of the first-round vote, the vast majority of the Peruvian media has lined up clearly in favor of Fujimori’s candidacy, veering dangerously away from objective reporting to open partisan advocacy. In addition, there have been a number of disturbing reports of censorship and journalists being fired for not towing the pro-Keiko line of their media outlets. While every negative aspect of Humala’s background is being extensively covered in the press, there is very little examination of the corruption, human rights violations, and other atrocities committed during the Fujimori regime. There are notable exceptions, including La República and Caretas, and the new social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, provide outlets for alternative reporting. But overall there is a trend that is quite worrisome regarding press independence and objectivity. “The majority of Peruvian newspapers and TV news programs are working full-time to demolish Humala’s candidacy,” writes journalist Carlos Noriega in the Argentine daily Página 12. “The local press, with very few exceptions, is unscrupulously biased in its coverage in favor of the daughter of the former dictator Fujimori, whose regime controlled the press through massive bribery schemes.”

Emphasizing mano dura anti-crime policies. In the pre-election presidential debate, when asked how her government would address the problem of crime, Keiko Fujimori said assuredly: “If we defeated terrorism in the 1990s of course we can defeat common crime now. With a heavy hand.” To bring home her point she hired former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani to advise her on anti-crime policy, and together they have toured several major cities in Peru. The Peruvian press hyped up his visit as a real boon to the Fujimori campaign, paying little attention to the extensive criticism of Giuliani’s anti-crime policies and serious problems of related police abuse during his administration.

Keiko Fujimori’s electoral propaganda: “Security and opportunities for all”

U.S. Government support? Giuliani’s collaboration with the Keiko Fujimori’s campaign is just one element of a widespread perception that the U.S. government backs Keiko Fujimori in these elections. Adding to this, the media reported on a conference organized in Miami by Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and currently a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, publicly calling for the need to prevent an Humala victory in Peru. Noriega reportedly characterized Humala as little more than a new addition, along with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, to the so-called “Axis of Evil.” Among the participants at Noriega’s event were former U.S. congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart and other Miami-based anti-Castro activists. While some have portrayed this as evidence of U.S. government support for Keiko Fujimori, in fact these individuals represent marginal and extremely conservatives sectors in the United States and while their views may be shared by some members of the U.S. Congress, they certainly do not represent the Obama Administration’s stance on Peru. That said, there have been disturbing reports that the U.S. Ambassador in Peru, Rose Likins, has endorsed Keiko Fujimori in private meetings with a number of different individuals.

Keiko Fujimori = Alberto Fujimori?

Some Keiko Fujimori supporters have argued that it is unfair to identify Keiko with her father’s government. Several months ago, in response to criticism of Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy, Alan Garcia said that children should not bear the sins of their fathers. Aside from the fact that Keiko was Peru’s First Lady from 1994 to 2000, rather than distancing her candidacy from her father’s legacy, Keiko has embraced his government as the “best in Peruvian history.” Her recent admission that her father’s government had authoritarian tendencies, and her acknowledgement that crimes such as the Barrios Altos massacre and the disappearance of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University were committed under his regime, fall flat in light of her steadfast defense of his government and her insistence of her father’s innocence of any wrongdoing. And while Keiko Fujimori has backed off from her early promises to pardon her father should she be elected, she says openly that she is confident that the judiciary will free him (and reports have been circulating for more than a month that the Constitutional Tribunal, controlled by APRA cronies, is poised to do just that), and that if it does not they will appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (ironically the same body Fujimori withdrew Peru from because he did not like its verdicts, which challenged his anti-terrorism policies as violations of essential human rights). Another concern that has begun to be raised in the Peruvian media is whether Vladimiro Montesinos would be freed if Keiko Fujimori were to be elected president a what role if any he might assume in a Fujimori government. (We will analyze this topic further in a later post.)

The back-story here is that Fujimori and his followers have been planning their return to power since at least 2005, as described in a recent report by Gustavo Gorriti analyzing several recently released Wikileaks cables. One cable penned by former U.S. Ambassador to Peru James Curtis Struble describes a meeting he had with close Fujimori associates following Fujimori’s arrest in Chile in 2005 in which they outlined their strategy to return to power: to try to get Fujimori elected as president in 2006 (the cable subject line was “Fujimoristas try to sell their man as the mechanism to stop Humala”!); to try to get Fujimori elected into Congress in 2006 and from there lay the grounds for a presidential bid in 2011; or, failing either of those options, to chose a stand-in candidate to run for the presidency. With Fujimori’s extradition in 2007 and his conviction in 2009, notes Gorriti, the latter course became the only alternative, and Keiko Fujimori, the chosen one.  

Note: Part II on Ollanta Humala to follow…

26 May 2011 ·

About Us

WOLA Peru Experts:


* Jo-Marie Burt, WOLA Senior Fellow and Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University. Ms. Burt is the author of Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

* Coletta Youngers, WOLA Senior Fellow. Ms. Youngers has lived in or worked on Peru since 1983 and is the author of Violencia Política y Sociedad Civil en el Perú (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2003).

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