Peru Elections 2016: Back to the Future?

By Jo-Marie Burt*

Peru Elections 2016

Photo Credits: Huhsunqu, Alex Albornoz, Alianza para el Progreso, Fuerza 2011, and Peruanos por el Kambio (modified) / Wikimedia / Creative Commons

Peruvian electoral authorities’ decision last month to disqualify two candidates in this weekend’s first-round presidential election has conjured up the ghosts of one of the most disputed elections in recent Latin American history: the “re-re-election” of Alberto Fujimori in 2000.  Large demonstrations this week against the candidacy of the strongman’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori, were a rejection of the corruption and authoritarianism of the past – as well as the electoral fraud that kept him in power.  The two candidates were disqualified for technical violations of campaign laws.  Newcomer Julio Guzmán, who polls indicated commanded around 20 percent of the vote, was punished because his party failed to follow certain registration norms, and the other, César Acuña, was accused of giving away gifts above newly set limits.  Local observers point out, however, that other leading parties are guilty of similar missteps but have faced no penalties.  Video and testimonials show, for example, Keiko Fujimori attended events where cash “prizes” were handed out.

The disqualifications have put the spotlight on the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which disqualified candidate Julio Guzmán asked to investigate the decisions.  Postponing the election would be extremely disruptive, particularly because other political groups in Peru, which have benefited from Guzmán’s exclusion, have seized on the immediate political advantage.  The possibility that uneven application of the electoral rules might taint the credibility of the eventual winner is not their immediate concern.

  • The two immediate beneficiaries are Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (known by his initials PPK, which also identify his party, Peruanos por el Kambio), and Verónica Mendoza of the left-wing Frente Amplio. At 15-20 percent each, they are jockeying for second and third place behind Fujimori (30-35 percent), but the real race is in the runoff on June 5 that will take place in the likely event that no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote.  In the 2011 elections, Fujimori won the first round, but lost in the runoff vote to Ollanta Humala.  Fujimorismo has a hard-core following of 25-30 percent of the voting public, but a majority of the population also has a negative opinion of her.

Peruvian elections had come a long way since Alberto Fujimori fled office in 2000.  (In 2009, he was sentenced to prison for 25 years for human rights violations, corruption, and abuse of authority.)  Free and fair elections were held in 2001, 2006, and 2011 – marking the first time in Peruvian history that two democratically elected presidents consecutively handed the presidential sash over to successors.  Whether politically motivated or merely the result of incompetence, electoral authorities’ apparently one-sided handling of this year’s campaign has created an appearance of favoritism discrediting the electoral process itself.  The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has already referred to these elections as “semi-democratic.”  Others speak openly of fraud.  The potential damage is compounded by popular concerns that Keiko Fujimori represents a return to the authoritarian and corrupt tactics that characterized her father’s decade in power.  Her detractors say that she is not simply her father’s daughter; she served as his First Lady and benefited from the corruption of his regime (for example, she testified before Congress that she accepted cash from intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos to pay for her college education).  Keiko has acknowledged “errors” (but not “crimes) were committed during her father’s government, and she continues to say her father’s regime was the “best” Peru has ever had.  These were bound to be contentious elections due to the divisive legacy Keiko Fujimori represents, as the massive nationwide demonstrations marking the April 5 “self-coup” on Tuesday made clear.  But the uneven application of the law by electoral authorities raises even more serious questions about Peru’s democratic institutions.

 April 7, 2016

*Jo-Marie Burt is Director of Latin American Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

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