Apologies for not having got around to posting in advance on the first round of Peru’s presidential election, held last Sunday – despite having drawn attention a few months ago to how interesting it would be.
And indeed it was. Peruvian presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, so every election brings change, and the general rule is that the runner-up from the previous election emerges as the front-runner. This year that was Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the jailed former dictator, who narrowly lost to leftist incumbent Ollanta Humala in 2011.
Voting is a single nationwide ballot, with a second round if no candidate wins more than 50%. Fujimori faced nine opponents, but only five had any appreciable support and only two were a serious threat: former prime minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a liberal free-marketeer, and Verónika Mendoza from the left-wing Broad Front.
As expected, Fujimori led comfortably with 39.8%, but was well short of a first-round victory. The critical contest for second place was much closer, with Kuczynski getting the nod with 21.0% to Mendoza’s 18.8%. (Official results here.) He will now face Fujimori in the runoff on 5 June.
Fujimori presents herself as a normal centre-right politician, but she also promises strong leadership at least partly on the model of her father. Alberto Fujimori won respect for stabilising Peru’s economy and defeating the Maoist Shining Path insurgency in the 1990s, but in the process he rode roughshod over the constitution and accumulated a dreadful human rights record.
Not every story need be about Donald Trump, but if you’re looking for a model of what a rogue presidency might be like, Fujimori’s term wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Fujimori père was extradited from Japan in 2007 and convicted of a string of human rights violations, plus bribery and embezzlement. He is serving a 25-year sentence, but it is assumed that his daughter will pardon him if she wins the presidency.
She would not be the first dictator’s daughter to win a democratic election; Park Geun-hye, daughter of Park Chung-hee, has been president of South Korea for the last three years. Coincidentally, South Korea went to the polls yesterday in parliamentary elections (both countries have an American-style strict separation of powers), which saw the president’s centre-right party lose its narrow majority.
Two rival centrist parties will now have 160 of the 300 seats between them, making for a more difficult time for the administration (with no knowledge of Korean, I’m relying on Wikipedia for numbers). Despite Park’s family history, South Korean democracy has certainly survived so far.
At the time of Park’s victory, I said that “As dictators go, you could do worse than” her father, and much the same could be said of Fujimori. But in both cases there seems to be an element of nostalgia for authoritarian rule that is unsettling at best.
Keiko Fujimori, however, is no certainty to win in the second round. Although Kuczynski and Mendoza have little in common ideologically, they are both opponents of Fujimorism and it’s expected that the bulk of her support will flow to him. He is also the preferred candidate of international financial interests. But 18.8 percentage points is a big deficit to make up.
Whoever wins, of course, it will a further step in what is now an unmistakable swing to the right in Latin America. Dilma Roussef is still fighting hard against impeachment moves in Brazil, but however her term ends it seems certain that the centre-right will gain there as well.