But will Peru’s progressive left follow his lead?
By Paula Dupraz-Dobias ✐ Special to Peruvian Times ☄
LIMA, PERU — Statistically, centrist presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was all but confirmed to advance to a second round of voting in June against front-runner Keiko Fujimori.
It was taken in most quarters as a foregone conclusion on Tuesday, if not a sigh of relief for some, most notably investors. Just days earlier, they had been terrified by the sudden surge of leftist candidate Verónika Mendoza in the final runup to Sunday’s vote.
With 96 percent of ballots processed, the National Office for Electoral Processes (ONPE) reported that Kuczynski, also known as PPK, had secured 21 percent of the ballots from Sunday’s general election. His thin 2-percentage-point edge over Mendoza appeared to be holding strong. Financial markets soared.
Fujimori, the daughter of the jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, had hardly budged from her leading 40 percent — a little more than 10 percentage points shy to claim outright victory.
Mendoza called a press conference Tuesday afternoon, It was prefaced by a fiery all-inclusive speech — not quite a concession, but close enough — to the cheers and applause of supporters lined up wide and high behind her.
The message included shout outs to a broad and deep left-of-center constituency, which Kuczynski is going to need to win over, at least to some extent, if he is to defeat Fujimori on June 5.
Mendoza’s political slate is comprised of some of Peru’s most committed leftist political warriors, remnants from Peru’s popular movements of decades past, and for sure a few tired stalwarts.
Many of them were for years directly targeted by the Shining Path from the early-1980s through the mid-1990s. Then they were further driven into a political corner by the radically pro-business regime of Alberto Fujimori and one of South America’s most mythic gangster intelligence chiefs, Vladimiro Montesinos.
Mendoza gave a fiery all-inclusive speech — not quite a concession, but close enough — to the cheers and applause of supporters lined up wide and high behind her. The message, included shout outs to a variety of urgent concerns held by a broad constituency of common Peruvians.
“The Peruvian people have given us a mandate has asked us to be a critical and supervisory opposition,” she said.
Mendoza’s political slate includes some of Peru’s most committed leftist warriors, remnants from Peru’s popular movements of decades past, and for sure, some tired stalwarts. Many of them were directly targeted by the Shining Path from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. Then they were further driven into a political corner by the regime of Alberto Fujimori and his ganger intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos.
“We are going to be more united, firm and organized than ever,” Mendoza said. “The fight against corruption, the return of control over our resources, the dignity of work and full equal rights, the fortification of the State to guarantee the equality of rights and opportunities, these are our ideas.”
Her speech was interspersed with populist chants and the steady rhythm of drums.
The results close the first chapter of a turbulent campaign that saw two leading contestants disqualified from the race for technical errors and alleged vote-buying, under a new electoral law prohibiting candidates from offering gifts to curry favor with potential voters.
Other candidates, including Fujimori and PPK, were accused of distributing money and beer at campaign events, but Peru’s National Jury of Elections, or JNE, decided to allow their campaigns to continue.
“The election suffered from a number of issues,” Kuczynski told The Peruvian Times in an interview last week before the end of campaigning.
“There was certainly a lot of discontent coming from the fact that this country had been doing well and had slowed down. There was a high level of frustration, and from that, a number of candidates without any former political background emerged.”
Kuczynski, who last served in government as economy minister and cabinet chief during President Alejandro Toledo’s 2001-2006 government, said change in the electoral system was needed, and that there was “a lot of discussion about how this should be done.”
He contended that the JNE was largely controlled by the APRA party, under former President Alan Garcia, who finished in Sunday’s voting with less than 6 percent of the vote and remarkably stepped down as its leader.
Furthermore, “We have a serious problem regarding the electoral system, which is a proportional system, but ‘criolla style,’” Kuczynski said.
He said the system of electoral districts needs to change so that Congress is more representative of local interests.
“It’s a proportional system but with preferential voting making it disastrous,” he said. Changing the representational structure “would require a constitutional reform, which is not too difficult to do but would be something to carry out.”
Private sector support
Much of Kuczynski’s vote came from wealthier, professional urban voters, such as in the more select Lima neighborhoods.
In San Isidro, one such supporter was Jorge Lizarazo, a mining engineer, who said that while he respected Mendoza’s plan for more state involvement in Peru’s mining-heavy economy, did not share her views.
“In order that Peru can grow, it is important to support industry and mining,” he said.
As results trickled in following the end of voting Sunday afternoon, the pro-business candidate again reiterated the importance of strengthening Peru’s economy.
On Monday, he said “I believe we can return to economic growth of 5 percent per year with a few measures.”
The candidate, a son of European immigrants, ran in the 2011 presidential elections, but was edged out by his current rival Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala, who went on to win.
That year, Kuczynski supported Fujimori in the runoff, but later said that he regretted the choice. He explained that his decision was taken due to concerns about Humala introducing Hugo Chavez-style nationalizations. But Humala, who had run in previous races as a fierce anti-establishment nationalist, made a dramatic shift to the political center and pursued pro-business strategies.
Kuczynski hopes to rally strong anti-Fujimori sentiment felt by many Peruvians across a wide political spectrum who associate her with the corruption riddled 10-year rule of her father. Alberto Fujimori is serving a 25-year-sentence for human rights violations, as well as a bevy of other bribery and corruption convictions.
A week before Sunday’s vote, Kuczynski told television network Univision he would sign a law that would allow Alberto Fujimori, 77, to complete his sentence at home.
He explained the statement to this reporter: “I had always said – it’s not the first time – that if a law, allowing sentenced people who satisfy certain conditions – age, illness or other- presented by Congress, I would sign it. It is not a pardon.”
“I think that even though Fujimori had been accused of crimes against humanity, he is also someone who had been in prison for a while and has behaved,” Kuczynski said. “He is an old person. There are many other similar cases. It’s not the only one. There are about 100 people.”
Peruvian Times editor Rick Vecchio contributed to this report.