Fujimori, Daughter of an Authoritarian, Favored in Peru Poll

  • Vote for president on Sunday but likely to need a second round
  • As security concerns loom, Keiko Fujimori promises firm hand

Two decades after he dissolved congress, vanquished Maoist guerrillas and fled the country amid corruption allegations, Alberto Fujimori hovers over Peru’s politics, with his daughter Keiko expected to be the top vote winner in Sunday’s presidential election.

Although she is projected to win twice as many ballots as her nearest rival, she appears unlikely to pass the 50 percent threshold needed for victory, so a second round to be held in two months would be hers to lose.

Keiko Fujimori
Keiko Fujimori
Photographer: Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty Images

Imprisoned on the outskirts of Lima after being sentenced in 2009 for ordering the killing of suspected terrorist sympathizers, Fujimori’s father remains a polarizing figure. Many view his imprisonment as unjust. They remember him for taming hyperinflation, stabilizing the economy and ending a brutal guerrilla insurgency. Many voters now want to see his 40-year-old daughter bring the same zeal to tackling rising crime and revitalizing an economy hobbled by slowing demand for Peru’s copper.

“Keiko has smoothed over the more controversial aspects of her image,” said David Sulmont, a professor at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru. “She’s stepped out from the shadow of her father and presents an air of generational renewal.”

U.S.-Educated

Fujimori, who went to Boston University and got an MBA from Columbia University, is married to an American and retains the pro-business, free-market policies that her father implemented and successive presidents upheld. She has said her government would tap into the country’s $9 billion contingency fund to finance public works projects and reduce taxes on small business.

Peru’s economy, while hurting after the collapse in revenue from gold and copper exports, is forecast to outperform all major peers in Latin America this year, as it has for most of the past decade.

Rising incomes have spurred growth of an emerging middle class, increasing demand for better public services in a country where fiscal spending is among the lowest in South America. Poverty fell to 23 percent in 2014 from 34 percent six years earlier. But economic difficulties from the troubled mining industry are on the horizon and concern for personal security is rising.

Fujimori adopted a first-lady type role after her parents’ divorce in 1994 but has made overtures to voters put off by the authoritarian legacy. She has left the staunchest defenders of her father’s government off her list of parliamentary candidates and says she won’t use presidential powers to free him from jail.

The granddaughter of Japanese immigrants, Fujimori draws strong support from voters in the capital, Lima, where about a third of Peruvians reside. Her support in rural areas also surpasses that of her four closest rivals combined, according to recent polls, a consequence of her father’s defeat of the Shining Path guerrillas who controlled swathes of the countryside and where he later built roads, schools and health facilities.

Forced Sterilizations

During an April 3 debate among the 10 presidential hopefuls, Fujimori signed a declaration vowing to further the work of a truth and reconciliation commission which was instrumental in the conviction of her father for ordering government-linked death squads. She also pledged to provide reparations to women allegedly forcibly sterilized during the 1990s while vowing to respect freedom of expression and the independence of powers.

“I know how to look at my country’s past,” she said. “I know which chapters to follow and which not.”

Nonetheless, the number of Peruvians who say they definitely won’t vote for her rose to 45 percent compared with 34 percent in January, according to a recent poll by Ipsos Peru.

Electoral authorities disqualified two of Fujimori’s strongest rivals last month while clearing her in a vote-buying case, leading to accusations of favoritism. That has fanned anti-Fujimori sentiment in recent weeks and could make her victory in the runoff more difficult, pushing voters to rally around her opponent, according to Paula Munoz, a professor at Universidad del Pacifico in Lima.

Students and activist groups have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against her candidacy, alleging preferential treatment and recalling her father’s manipulation of the national electoral board to secure an illegal, third term in 2000.

Dissolved Congress

On Tuesday, thousands marched through downtown Lima to mark the 24th anniversary of Alberto Fujimori’s self-coup when he dissolved Congress with military force, accusing lawmakers of blocking economic and political reforms. He assumed legislative powers, deposed court justices and detained opponents. Five months later, guerrilla leader Abimael Guzman was captured, which for some Peruvians vindicated Fujimori’s actions.

Juan Caceres, 32, was among the marchers this week. He said he worried Fujimori could repeat her father’s misdeeds.

“During her father’s government, they bought off the press and politicians and corrupted all the powers of the state,” he said. “That’s something that no country should accept.”

After extradition from Chile in 2007, Fujimori was convicted for ordering two massacres by death squads and has also received sentences for kidnapping, embezzlement and bribery.

Runoff

Many may vote for the candidate seen best able to defeat Fujimori in a probable runoff vote on June 5. Her closest rivals, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Veronika Mendoza, are from opposite ends of the political spectrum and were in a statistical tie in the Ipsos poll. Kuczynski, a former investment banker and finance minister, had 16 percent support while Mendoza, a congresswoman from Cuzco popular with poor and rural voters, had 15 percent.

In Ipsos’ hypothetical runoff scenarios, Fujimori would lose by two percentage points against Kuczynski and defeat Mendoza by a margin of six percentage points.

Rising support for Mendoza in recent weeks has rattled investors who had been looking forward to a runoff between Fujimori and Kuczynski, both perceived as market friendly. Mendoza has vowed to curb the expansion of the mining industry, raise import tariffs on farm produce, increase corporate taxes and renegotiate natural gas export contracts.

By contrast, Kuczynski has said his government would cut the sales tax, issue more debt to finance public works, and clamp down on the informal economy to boost tax revenue.

Crime ranks as Peruvians’ No. 1 concern, according to a recent survey by the country’s statistics agency. It is the world’s second largest producer of coca leaf, the prime ingredient in cocaine.

“Keiko has adopted a hard line against crime,” said Maria Luis Puig, a London-based analyst at Eurasia Group. “It’s a priority issue for voters.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE