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.

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).