Peru’s Election: Close Vote Count, Divided Nation

By Cynthia McClintock*

Keiko Kuczyinski

Photo Credits: Venezualan Government / Public Domain and Diario La Primera / Wikimedia Commons

Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) will not announce the final results of Sunday’s run-off presidential election until later this week, but the current statistical tie is already setting the stage for serious tensions.  The ONPE’s official count, with about 93 percent of votes counted, puts Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Peruanos por el Kambio) at 50.32 percent and Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular) at 49.68 percent.  Some local observers say that late-arriving vote tallies from rural areas could give Fujimori the edge, but others point out that recent quick counts have reliably predicted final results.  The campaigns may have aggravated tensions on Sunday night, when Fujimori’s spokesperson proclaimed her victory, and Kuczynski called on loyalists to “defend the vote” and “to be vigilant that they not steal votes from us.”

The campaign underscored the country’s enduring polarization over Fujimori’s imprisoned father, Alberto.  Although Alberto Fujimori was convicted on charges of human rights violations and corruption, and although his 1990s government became increasingly authoritarian, he is still perceived by many Peruvians as the savior who restored order and broke the back of the Sendero Luminoso guerrillas.   Primarily for this reason, Keiko Fujimori won almost 40 percent of the votes in the first round on April 10; Kuczynski was the runner-up with 21 percent, narrowly defeating leftist candidate Verónika Mendoza (Frente Amplio), with 19 percent.

  • The last two weeks were a roller coaster. At the time of the first round, Kuczynski had held a slight lead over Fujimori, but only a week ago was trailing her by about five points.  An international economist and banker who had lived for long periods in the United States, Kuczynski lost support in part because, after the first round, he spent eight days in the U.S., exacerbating perceptions that he was more gringo than Peruvian, while Fujimori traveled to remote areas of Peru.  She claimed that, whereas her opponent favored big business, she favored small and medium business.  Also, in the first debate, Kuczynski, who is 77, appeared at a loss to counter Fujimori’s attacks.
  • In the last week, however, it was Kuczynski with the momentum. He effectively communicated integrity and a commitment to democracy just as memories of the corruption and authoritarianism during the government of Fujimori’s father were revived.  A scandal implicating the head of her party, Joaquín Ramírez, in money laundering gradually took a toll, especially when her vice-presidential candidate was believed to have orchestrated the broadcast of a doctored audiotape in an effort to clear Ramírez’s name.  Fujimori appeared to believe that “the best defense is a good offense,” but her increasingly confrontational style and dismissive tone may have been a factor in the decision by third-place Mendoza to strongly endorse Kuczynski.  In the second debate a week ago Sunday, Kuczynski emphasized that Fujimori could not be trusted to keep her key pledge to fight crime when Ramírez and other leaders of her party were under criminal investigation.

The presidential campaign has reflected deep polarization and tensions since at least March, when electoral authorities disqualified two important candidates – Julio Guzmán and César Acuña – for violations of party and electoral regulations. Guzmán’s party had not kept to the letter of its internal party statutes and Acuña handed out cash at a campaign rally.  The disqualifications prompted OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to label Peru only “semi-democratic.”  A key problem was that the laws were not consistently enforced; most saliently, Fujimori, captured on video passing out prizes at a campaign event, was not disqualified.  Strains are likely to remain high this week, and could grow worse after ONPE’s final announced tally at the end of the week.  Fujimori’s followers, embracing the polls showing her lead prior to election day, may cry foul if a Kuczyinski victory is declared.  Many of Kuczyinski’s and Mendoza’s followers, for their part, intensely fear a return to Fujimorismo.  In this context, it is not impossible that disqualified candidates Guzmán and Acuña and their supporters could call for a total do-over.  Although serious, sustained instability remains unlikely, Peru’s 2016 election is by far its most problematic since the country’s return to democracy in 2001.

(Previous analyses on the Peruvian election are available here and here.)

June 6, 2016

* Cynthia McClintock is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

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2 Comments

  1. I’d be interested in knowing who Dr. McClintock thinks is going to ultimately be declared the winner. I’m sure she joins me in growing increasingly frustrated while hitting “reload” on ONPE’s webpage: today they went over 8.5 hours without counting any votes, and then held a press conference to announce that there would be no more press conferences for the day, apparently calling it quits until tomorrow. The snail’s pace at which they are operating, could, perhaps, lead it instability in and of itself.

    That being said, right now, with 94.196% of the tally sheets counted, PPK has 50.278% and Keiko has 49.722% of the vote. Looking at the webpage, it seems like the bulk of the outstanding votes are from the following, with the percentage from that area that has so-far gone to Keiko in parentheses:

    Kimbiri, La Convencion, Cusco (66%)
    Sivia, Huanta, Ayacucho (89%)
    Llochegua, Huanta, Ayacucho (61%)
    Various districts in Tayacaja, Huancavelica (36%)
    Various whole provinces in Loreto (43%, but that’s not necessarily representative because it’s almost entirely from Iquitos, which you’d expect to be disproportionately PPK.)
    Various districts in Oxapama, Pasco (65%)
    Various districts in Atalaya, Ucayali (68%)

    So it seems like odds are good that Keiko will gain further on PPK.

    The wildcard, I’d think, is that ONPE hasn’t yet processed any votes from Peruvians living abroad. Although there’s no data, it’d seem to me that Peruvian’s in other countries would be more likely to be in favor of PPK for three reasons:

    1. Simple demographics. I’d think they’d be wealthier and better educated, like PPK supporters.
    2. Issues. Polls show Fujimori’s strongest issue is security, which I’d imagine Peruvians living abroad would care less about since they aren’t actually at risk of crime in Peru.
    3. Style. Although Keiko herself isn’t a xenophobe, a lot of her supporters call PPK a traitor for having moved to the U.S. for a period and make fun of him for being a “gringo.” That probably doesn’t resonate with Peruvians who have themselves moved abroad and who by-and-large peacefully live and work side-by-side with their “gringo” friends and neighbors.

    Is that a correct way of thinking about things? Will Peruvians en el exterior be able to more than make up for any additional votes coming Fujimori’s way from Peru profundo?

    Reply
    • Cynthia McClintock

       /  June 8, 2016

      I strongly agree that ONPE”s delay is worrisome and the website operates poorly. I wish this were not the case. With respect to the localities where the votes have not yet been counted, though, I am actually optimistic that PPK will finally prevail. Most of the areas that you cite are in Peru’s southern highlands, which went overwhelmingly for Veronika Mendoza in the first round and her endorsement of PPK led to a very solid vote for him in the runoff. I think that the reasons that you cite for PPK’s likely victory in the exterior are spot-on.

      Reply

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