It’s anyone’s guess who will come out victorious when Peruvians go to the polls Sunday to elect their 94th president. Each of the two closely matched candidates – Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala – brings some baggage from the past.
EYES INSIDE -- LATIN AMERICA
Sunday's runoff election in Peru could very well end in a photo finish, as polls continue to report a dead heat between the two candidates: conservative Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori and the leftist ex-army officer Ollanta Humala.
Fujimori, the 36-year-old daughter of jailed former Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), enjoys a notable advantage in and around Lima, the country's capital and largest city. But Humala, the runner-up in the 2006 presidential election, is expected to outpoll his rival in the south.
Humala lost the last election to President Alan García, who is now completing his second term in office. Garcia, a centrist, first held the presidency from 1985-1990. Peruvian term limits prevent him from running again.
While the numbers vary a bit from poll to poll, they all seem to agree on one thing: that the June 5 contest is very much up for grabs. A final survey conducted by the polling firm Ipsos Apoyo gives a thin edge to Fujimori (50.5% versus 49.5% for Humala), while Imasen, another polling firm, found a slight advantage for the left-wing candidate (43.8% versus 42.5% for Fujimori).
Polls do not take into account Peruvian voters living abroad. Potentially decisive, expatriated Peruvians who are already registered to vote (roughly 750,000) could end up accounting for between 2%-3% of voters, according to the Chilean daily La Tercera.
Fujimori and Humala met last Sunday night for the first and only debate of the runoff period. Several of Peru's major newspapers criticized the encounter as all fireworks and little substance. "Sólo golpes" (just punches), read Monday's front-page headline from the tabloid daily Perú 21.
Referring repeatedly to Fujimori as the "ex-first lady of Peru," Humala used his rival's family ties to suggest that a victory for the congresswoman would mean a return to the corruption, human rights violations and authoritarianism that characterized Alberto Fujimori's decade-long presidential tenure.
Technically speaking, Keiko Fujimori was "first lady" for a time – starting in August 1994, when President Fujimori "fired" his estranged wife and bestowed the title on his then 19-year-old daughter.
Fujimori, head of a coalition called Fuerza 2011, defended herself by pointing out that she in fact has never been charged or tried for corruption, human rights violations or any of the other accusations levied against her father. "Comandante Humala," on the other hand, has been subject to criminal investigations, she said. In 2000, Humala also participated in a failed military coup – against Alberto Fujimori.
Most Peruvian media outlets found that the televised debate ended in draw, doing little to unlock the dead heat in the polls. Imasen director Giovanna Peñaflor described it as "just another element" voters can use to make their final decision. "It's likely that the debate helped a sector of the citizenry to lean toward one or the other of the candidates, but it wasn't strong enough to be a real determining factor in the runoff," she told Perú 21.
Analysts have described the Fujimori-Humala head-to-head as "unusual," not only because of how tight the race is, but because of how polarizing the two candidates are proving to be: Humala because of his military background and once close relationship with controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and Fujimori because of her infamous father.
"I'm still as undecided as I was when I started this process and voted for Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. I'm not convinced by either of them. They both make me nervous," Pedro Lordi, a 65-year-old perfume seller in Lima told the Mexican wire service El Universal.
Kuczynski, a former finance minister, was one of several candidates who failed to make it out of Peru's first round presidential election, held April 10. Other candidates included Luis Castañeda, a conservative ex-mayor of Lima, and former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006).
"If the election were tomorrow, I'd hold my nose and go vote for Ollanta," said Lordi. "I lost my company due to the Alberto Fujimori-era corruption. I couldn't vote for Keiko even is she promised all the bridges along the Nile."