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’s 2016 Elections: Will Old-timers Retain the Lead?

By Cynthia McClintock*

Photo Credit: A.Davey / Flickr / Creative Commons

Photo Credit: A.Davey / Flickr / Creative Commons

The big surprise of Peru’s presidential campaign – for elections about four months from now – is that there have been no surprises.  All three frontrunners in the April 10 first round are old-timers, not newcomers or outsiders.  Although Peru’s political parties are among the weakest in Latin America, two of the three lead institutionalized parties.  Further, in a country where the winners since 2001 have been roughly at the center-left of the ideological spectrum, all three of the current leaders are at the right or center-right.

Two main explanations for this emerge:

  • One is that Peruvian voters are reacting against the administration of incumbent Ollanta Humala. A former military officer, Humala burst into Peru’s electoral arena as a fiery leftist outsider in 2006 and won a plurality in the first round but lost the runoff.  For the 2011 election, he moderated his positions considerably and prevailed.  But his political party has remained inchoate and, in part as a result, Humala is now perceived as opportunistic and weak.  Humala has delivered on promises of social inclusion to a degree, but economic growth has stalled – so Peruvians may now be reasoning that it is time to prioritize growth.
  • Probably more likely, however, is that it is yet early in Peru’s presidential campaign. Even as late as three months before elections, Peru’s opinion polls are often very wrong, almost always exaggerating the support for rightist candidates.  In January 1990, Mario Vargas Llosa was leading with 53 percent, compared to 15 percent for his nearest rival, but lost the runoff in a landslide.  Lourdes Flores was leading in January 2006, and Alejandro Toledo in January 2011, but neither even reached the runoff.

The current three front-runners have strengths, but also liabilities.

  • The candidate who has topped the opinion polls for more than a year is Keiko Fujimori. She is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori who, despite conviction on charges of human rights violations and corruption, retains support as the president who presided over the decimation of the Shining Path insurgency.  Her “Fujimorista Party” has a fervent base in both urban and rural areas.  Keiko was the runner-up in Peru’s 2011 election, but she struggled to achieve a balance between respect for her father and distance from his abuses.  She is likely to have the same challenge in 2016.
  • Currently second in the polls with roughly 22 percent is Pedro Pablo Kucznyski. He can take credit for excellent economic growth during the Toledo administration (2001-2006), when he was economics minister and prime minister, and there are no corruption charges against him despite many years in government.  In 2011, he ran an excellent campaign and finished third.  But he will be 77 next year, and he has many U.S. business connections (and until now a U.S. passport), which could hurt him.
  • Running third with about 10 percent is Alan García, the long-standing leader of Peru’s most-institutionalized party, APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance). García is a brilliant campaign strategist, and he can cite superb economic growth during his 2006-2011 presidential term.  However, he is also widely perceived as Peru’s most corrupt political leader.

Surprises are inherently impossible to predict – but not impossible to imagine.  Peru’s left is divided and poorly financed, and its heyday has probably passed, but the candidate nominated a few weeks ago by the Broad Front, Verónika Mendoza, a congresswoman from Cusco and psychologist who studied in France, has the potential to appeal to diverse sectors of Peruvians.  As in many Latin American countries, corruption scandals are at the forefront in Peru, and a candidate who has participated in successful anti-corruption efforts – but whose name doesn’t occupy headlines – could emerge and turn the race upside down.

November 5, 2015

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