Keiko in Father’s Footsteps: Peru’s Next President?

Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former, authoritarian president, is well ahead in the polls.

Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori campaigns for the 2011 election, December 7, 2010
Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori campaigns for the 2011 election, December 7, 2010 (Flickr/Keiko Fujimori)

The next Peruvian presidential election will take place in less than two years. In many ways this signifies the country’s progress, as it will be the first time in Peru’s history that a fourth consecutive democratic election is held.

As things stand, it is Keiko Fujimori of the conservative Fuerza Popular who has captured the public’s attention. Recent polls put her way ahead of the pack with a 32 percent approval rating. The liberal Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is lagging behind with 11.6 percent.

Fujimori is a familiar name in Peru. It is one that divides public opinion and gave birth to a political ideology, Fujimorism. This all results from the often controversial and never dull presidency of Keiko’s father, Alberto.

His supporters say that his is a legacy of having quelled the threat of Maoist insurgents and of rebuilding the economy. His “Fujishock” free-market reforms started a cycle of economic prosperity that is only now beginning to slow down.

Critics say Fujimori’s means of achieving this were not justified by the results. They believe he has been rightfully incarcerated for gross human rights abuses (when tackling the terrorist threat), for his unlawful presidential coup in 1992, for mass corruption through embezzlement of state funds (to the tune of $15 million) and for browbeating political opposition through his control of the media — all undertaken by his national intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

During Fujimori’s second and third terms, from 1995 to 2000, Keiko served as Peru’s youngest ever first lady, following the acrimonious divorce of her parents. By treading the same political path, in seeking the presidency, she bears the burden of her father’s past. 2016 will be the second election she contests, after failing to beat the incumbent, Ollanta Humala, in 2011.

The same poll that now puts Keiko Fujimori ahead of her competitors asked voters, “which political party is the most corrupt?” The results were revealing. With all parties subject to chequered pasts, it appears Peru’s electorate has quite a short memory. Alan García’s Partido Aprista Peruano was deemed most corrupt, with 41.4 percent. García was Peru’s previous leader and is under investigation by a “megacomission” for his alleged involvement in “narco pardons” — where it is claimed he took bribes for pardoning drug traffickers. Should he be found guilty, he will fall victim to new legislation, banning “narco candidates” from running for office at any level.

Second in the survey, with 15.4 percent, was the party of García’s predecessor, Alejandro Toledo. Toledo also faces allegations of illicit activities in the infamous Ecoteva case. He is accused of money laundering and criminal conspiracy, using his company, the Ecoteva Consulting Group, as a front.

Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular came in third with 11.9 percent, her credibility seemingly tarred with the brush that has condemned her father.

The poll shows a clear trend: time and again, the outgoing president, no longer protected by his position, is held accountable by opponents for alleged abuses and so trial by tabloid takes a more serious turn. Humala’s ruling nationalist party only received 3.4 percent of the votes in the poll. However, as one political analyst stated, “out of power, in these conditions, is a life of strain and investigation.” Ollanta Humala, beware.

Allegations and accusations fly around the political media on a daily basis, both as part of the unpalatable makeup of Peruvian politics and the unfortunate amount of corruption that goes on under a “presidential prerogative.”

According to Transparency International, Peru is eighty-third in their corruption perception standings, whereas neighbor Chile comes in twenty-second.

In this context, having suffered from defamatory press, Keiko, like her father before her, has not been afraid to trade blows and get her hands dirty.

In the run-up to this year’s local election, Daniel Urresti, the interior minister, announced that one of Fuerza Popular‘s candidates was found with half a ton of cocaine, only for it later to be discovered that it was plaster. Fujimori intimated that the government’s “black hand” had been involved and went on to highlight the investigation into Urresti’s past involvement with the fight against Maoist insurgents, in which he is alleged to have been involved in the 1988 murder of a journalist, Hector Bustios.

Away from all the mudslinging, there is a curious void of political identity among Peruvian politicians. Almost one in twenty members of Congress are independents. Through mining and gas royalties, they have access to large amounts of public funds. Parties are based more on individuals than policies. Consecutive governments have campaigned and been elected on leftist promises only to enact free-market economic policies that, according to political scientist Julio Cotler, “no longer defend national interests but only private ones.” The Peruvian population has followed suit, with 75 percent participating in an informal economy that in June experienced it weakest growth in five years.

Keiko was asked by Perú.21, a daily, where she would be found on the political spectrum — to which she answered, incredibly, “center-left.”

Yet 31 percent of Peruvians want an authoritarian right-wing government and 23 percent of them are in the Fujimori camp. It would appear that Fujimori knows that she has their ear through thick and thin, based on Fujimorism tenets of old: a free-market economy, law and order. She says that she wants her party to be more than just a surname and so is battling with the other parties as she tries to expand her voting demographic to the leftist ground.

Keiko is seen as a reliable option — Fuerza Popular has lost just one of its 37 members of Congress since 2011, whereas the ruling coalition has lost eleven out of 47. She is believed to represent a political ideology that can reestablish a sense of direction for Peru, renew institutional strength, formalize the economy and, somewhat ironically, bring a no nonsense approach to corruption.

If pollsters are proven right and Keiko wins the 2016 election, the celebration of democracy in Peru will be somewhat bittersweet. The legacy of Keiko’s father may have given her the political weight to succeed but it was Alberto Fujimori, with his self coup, who interrupted the democratic process.

Whoever wins, celebrations will be short lived if the current political malaise and economic stagnation continue.