Keiko and Alberto Fujimori (Photo: infolatam.com)
Fujimorism, which for a decade (from 1990 to 2000) led an authoritarian regime in Peru smeared by corruption and violations of human rights, is threatening a comeback. It came close to doing it in 2011, when Keiko Fujimori lost in the runoff election against current president Ollanta Humala. Today, ahead of the April elections this year, the daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, currently in jail, is leading all the opinion polls. Support for her is at 30 to 35%, which puts her solidly in the first place. Not enough, though, for winning the presidency in the first round and avoiding a runoff.
According to three recent surveys, a tough fight is going on for the second place, which entitles to second place in the runoff. Economist and business manager Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski’s support is at 13 to 14%. The polls are giving César Acuña, a millionaire provincial leader who is pouring money and right-wing populism into the campaign, a surprising 10 to 15%. Former president Alan García (1985-1990 and 2006-2011) is bogged down at 6 to 8%. Unexpectedly rising in the polls – from 2 to 5% - in recent weeks, young economist Julio Guzmán, the economic right’s new face, is now very much into the race and attracting much media coverage. Former president Alejandro Toledo (2002-2006), burdened by accusations of illicit enrichment during his mandate, does not seem to have much of a future with his 3% backing. The support for the official candidate Daniel Urresti is now at only 2% and there seem to be no prospects of him rising any higher. All of them agree to defend the continuity of the neoliberal model. The exception to the dominant discourse is young congresswoman Verónika Mendoza, the candidate of the leftist Frente Amplio, with a 2% support too but with some potential for going up, according to the analysts. Then comes the rest. In all, there are 19 candidates running for the presidency.
How to explain the high support for Keiko Fujimori, Alberto Fujimori’s political heiress, after her father’s dictatorship came to an abrupt end amid corruption scandals and serious violations of human rights?
"Alberto Fujimori’s government ended over 15 years ago and many Peruvians between the ages of 18 and 34 simply do not know what it was like. In addition, we should not forget that Fujimori used patronage to a great extent and there is a sector of the population that has good memories of his way of managing things. Also Keiko, unlike the rest of her competitors who were busy doing something else, has been campaigning for five years. Keiko owes her support to her father and to herself: she has built a more engaging image of Fujimorism that is quite acceptable to many", says political analyst and professor at the Catholic University in Lima Fernando Tuesta.
For his part, Luis Benavente, political communication expert and director of the consultancy firm Vox Populi, maintains that "Fujimorism is neo-populism. It is the strongest brand of right-wing populism in Latin America. Support for Keiko has a lot to do with the appeal of that populism and also with the patronage which went on in the Fujimori years. Her supports come mainly from rural and lower urban sectors. Keiko has distanced herself from the harshest side of Fujimorism, she is changing the authoritarian image of her party. It is not a real change, but it works as an electoral strategy".
About the race for second place, Tuesta thinks that "the best placed candidate is César Acuña, whose support has been growing in the provincial and popular sectors. He is using his personal story as a humble person who has been successful against the odds, his image as an emerging Peruvian. And it is working".
To Benavente, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is another favourite for the runoff. The problem is that his candidacy is failing to connect with the popular sectors. His support comes mainly from the middle and upper classes, and if he does not manage to change this, he will stall.
About former president Alan García, both analysts agree that the narcoindultos (drug-pardons) scandal (i.e., the pardons granted by García during his second term to more than three thousand convicted drug traffickers) is hitting him hard. "This is a fatal weight for him to be carrying", says Tuesta, for whom García, with a rejection rate at 70%, "is a worn out candidate” who cannot hope to rise again.
Tuesta and Benavente agree that Julio Guzmán, who benefits from having positioned himself as the "new one" in these elections where voters are looking for something new, has room to keep growing and fight for a place at the runoff.
According to Benavente, leftist Verónika Mendoza has options to grow too and get into the fight: "She is a very attractive candidate, but lacks a good campaign strategy. Her discourse is very rational, which is good but does not get down well with Peruvian voters. The academic tinge in her speech is preventing her from connecting with the masses. If she changes her strategy, she can surge and put up a fight. There is a demand for change in the country and a well-crafted leftist option could battle for a place in the runoff".
There is still a very high level of undecided voters and allegiance to the candidates is still shaky. This, notes Benavente, accounts for about 60% of the electorate. The game is far from over yet.
The Spanish version of this article was published by La línea de fuego.