Peruvians vote in tight presidential election that weighs Fujimori’s legacy
LIMA (Reuters) – Peruvians voted on Sunday in a tight runoff for the presidency, choosing between right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a jailed former president, and former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Fujimori’s lead over Kuczynski, 77, melted away in recent days, evoking memories of her close defeat to outgoing President Ollanta Humala in 2011.
In opinion polls taken on Saturday, Kuczynski pulled slightly ahead of Fujimori, though the two remained in a statistical dead heat.
The 41-year-old Fujimori has spent the past five years seeking to broaden her appeal beyond loyalists to her father, Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for graft and human rights abuses.
She kicked his staunchest defenders off her party’s congressional ticket and has stepped up the movement’s presence in provinces she lost to Left-leaning Humala in 2011. Still, many voters remain wary, with some of Fujimori’s new associates mired in fresh scandals.
“I remember what her father was like, and I think she would be the same. He controlled the media and was extremely corrupt,” said Angela Agrela, 23, a housewife who was voting for Kuczynski.
While both candidates are fiscal conservatives who would maintain a free-market model in the resource-rich Andean economy, their styles and approaches differ wildly.
The election pits the Fujimori family’s brand of conservative populism against Kuczynski’s elite background and stiff technocratic style that has curbed his appeal in poor provinces and working-class districts.
Fujimori, who has repeatedly said democracy is not at risk, has waged a more energetic campaign than her rival, whirling out regional dances in far-flung villages where she has promised to deliver tractors, and portraying her rival as out-of-touch with struggling Peruvians.
Many in rural provinces have fond memories of her father, who built schools and hospitals and is credited with ending the violent Shining Path insurgency.
The younger Fujimori has responded to the top voter concern, crime, with a hard-line stance that includes support for the death penalty and promises to lock up the most dangerous criminals in five new prisons she would have built high in the Andes.
Kuczynski has portrayed himself as honest and experienced enough to make good on promises to jump-start sluggish economic growth, and captured the anti-Fujimori vote despite having endorsed her over Humala in 2011.
In a message posted on Facebook on Saturday, he called for Peruvians to defend democracy.
“Let’s close the path to the return to dictatorship, corruption and lies,” he said.
If he wins, Kuczynski would have to reckon with a solid majority of Fujimori’s party in congress, and a leftist alliance that has promised not to align with either of them.
If recent history is any guide, Fujimori has a good chance of eking out a win. Every president since 2000 has first faced defeat in a runoff race in the previous election.
“She’s ready and deserves the chance to clear her father’s name,” said Santiago Celez, a 70-year-old taxi driver. “Not by pardoning him as some think, but by simply doing things right.”
A MAN CASTS his ballot in Peru’s presidential election at a voting station in Lima yesterday.