Keiko Fujimori has overcome, at least paritally, her imprisoned father's past to become the frontrunner to be Peru's next president. But the runoff will measure fears of a return to the authoritarian right?
LIMA — Keiko Fujimori has made good in Peruvian politics using her surname. Her father is the former, now jailed, President Alberto Fujimori, whose crackdown on a Maoist insurrection in the 1990s restored security to Peru. He is a man whose ruthlessness earned him admiration and contempt in equal measure.
Despite the controversy and fears that surround her family name — which has similar connotations in Peru as Pinochet does in Chile — Fujimori was the most-voted candidate in the first round of Peru's presidential and parliamentary elections last weekend. But she failed to win enough votes to become president, forced to fight a second round in June against another conservative candidate, former Economy Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
The polls anticipated Fujimori's center-right Popular Force party to win at least 40% of the vote and suggested the remote possibility that Fujimori herself could win more than 50%. The other question was about who would be her rival in the second round. Ideally for Fujimori, it would have been Verónika Mendoza of the leftist Broad Front party, which wound up with just 17% of the vote. Persistent fears of the left in Peru, which has yet to forget the horrors of the Shining Path movement, ultimately paved the way for right-leaning candidate Kuczynski, whose initials PPK are consistent with his Peruvians for Change party (Peruanos por el Kambio), to make it to the runoff with 24% of the vote.
Fujimori's family name is both her strength and weakness. Analysts say her presidential hopes rest mainly on support from the working class, who will remember her father as the man who curbed hyperinflation, successfully fought the Shining Path and made Peru prosperous. While she's made some mistakes in the past, observers say she will have learned the lessons of her last presidential campaign, which she narrowly lost in the second round to now outgoing President Ollanta Humala. She suggested then that she might pardon her father, which mobilized those opposed to the jailed former president to support Humala.
The U.S.-educated Fujimori, now 40, became Peru's effective First Lady at age 19 after her parents divorced, the youngest in the history of Latin America. All she says now about that period was that the April 10 results showed "clearly that Peru wants reconciliation, not fights."
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Fujimori during his trial in 2008 — Photo: Lamtheboo
She insists this time that she will not pardon her father, will maintain the current government's economic model and fight crime. We should also bear in mind that Fujimori partly owes her top position to the fact that the country's electoral arbiter disqualified two aspirants considered to be close rivals because of evidence of campaign irregularities.
Her strength now resides in the grassroots party structures that are pervasive across the country and the parliamentary majority her party won on April 10 (her brother was the most-voted parliamentarian in Lima). Her weakness is the dark side of her father's presidency, including the massacres of Barrios Altos and La Cantuta, where right-wing gunmen killed 25 people.
For challenger PPK, the hope is to win over those who fear and resent the Fujimori name, whatever their own political colors, and to form a broad front determined to impede the return of the authoritarian Right — even in diluted form. Ultimately, on June 5, the voters of Peru will decide how they see the future. And the past.