A familiar name has topped the polls for Peru’s next president. Keiko Fujimori received the most votes in the election held April 10, but her failure to win an outright majority means she will face off against Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in a runoff scheduled for June 5. Fujimori is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who led Peru and enjoyed Japan’s support during the 1990s. She has promised a different presidency from that of her father; if she wins the runoff, the world must hold her to that pledge.
Fujimori is a U.S.-educated congresswoman who served as first lady of Peru from 1994 to 2000, assuming that position at the age of 19 after her parents divorced. Her mother alleges that the marriage ended when she was tortured for disagreeing with her husband’s human rights policies; the former president claims the scars on her back and neck are from moxibustion treatments.
Fujimori left the country to get a master’s degree in the United States but cut her studies short and returned when her father was arrested in Chile and held for extradition to Peru. She championed his cause and was elected to Congress in 2006, winning more votes than any other candidate. She served in the National Congress until 2011, heading her own party and running for president in 2011. She came in second in the first round, losing in that balloting and in the subsequent runoff, to Ollanta Humala.
Peru’s president is limited by the constitution to a single five-year term. Fujimori has led all polls during this campaign, but her double-digit margin evaporates when the number of candidates is reduced to two. Some polls even show her losing in a runoff; one poll reported that 51 percent of respondents would not vote for her under any circumstances. Kuczynski is counting on opposition coalescing around him in the second. A former World Bank economist and finance minister, Kuczynski has positioned himself as a man of the center who will continue the free market policies that have produced two decades of uninterrupted growth without the baggage that Fujimori carries.
Fujimori is just right of center on the political spectrum, and she has promised to continue the 25 years of free market policies that her father inaugurated. Voters’ assessments of her, however, tend to reflect their thinking about her father. He was a strongman, either credited for breaking the back of the Shining Path Maoist insurgency that terrorized Peru since 1980 and instituting economic reforms that put the country on a stable footing, or a dictator who shredded Peru’s constitution, routinely violated human rights, turned a blind eye to atrocities and tolerated corruption. Especially controversial was a contraception program that reportedly resulted in the forced sterilization of as many as 300,000 women.
Alberto Fujimori was forced from office in 2001 — after he tendered his resignation during a trip to Japan, the country of his ancestry. He remained in exile in Japan until he traveled to Chile in 2005, where he assumed he would be safe from extradition. That assumption was wrong: after long and circuitous proceedings — during which he ran for election to Japan’s Upper House, presumably to gain immunity from arrest; he lost the vote — he was extradited to Peru in 2007 where he has since been serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations and corruption. He has the distinction of being the first democratically elected president tried and found guilty of human rights abuses in his own country.
The former president has since been in prison, and the question hanging over his daughter’s campaign is how far she will go to protect his image. Fujimori has said that she will not pardon her father if she wins, and tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the runup to the election in protest against the prospect of any rehabilitation.
Among their supporters, the Fujimoris stand (and stood) for law and order. Peru’s crime rate worries many voters — Keiko Fujimori promised to build new prisons as part of her campaign — and in the days before Sunday’s vote, remnants of the Shining Path group launched two attacks, killing three soldiers and a civilian and wounding seven others.
The real concerns about lawlessness are focused on the election campaign itself. Just prior to the voting, two candidates, including Fujimori’s top competitor, were barred from running for technical violations of campaign rules. Fujimori was accused of behavior similar to that of one of the disqualified candidates, but the electoral tribunal decided she would not be punished. For many observers, that looked suspiciously like the strings were pulled on her behalf. There are fears that a similar finger on the scales during the runoff vote could influence the outcome.
Here, the role of other states is crucial. There must be no fiddling with the election process or outcome. The Organization of American States, the United States and Japan must do all they can to ensure that the will of the people is respected. Japan in particular, with its close ties to the Fujimori family, should insist on an election that is free, fair and transparent.
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