Peru: Kuczynski Wins Presidency by Razor-thin Margin

MARIANA BAZO/REUTERS

LIMA, Peru – Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the candidate of the center-right Peruvians for Change (PPK) party, was declared the winner of the second round run-off vote over Keiko Fujimori of the right-wing Popular Force (FP) by a razor-thin margin after a contentious electoral season.

After nearly five days of scrutinization, the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) announced that Kuczynski had won 50.12 percent of the vote to Fujimori’s 49.88 percent with 100 percent of the votes counted. In bulk numbers, 8,589,529 votes were placed for Kuczynski while 8,547,845 were for Fujimori, meaning that the margin of victory was just an incredible 0.24 percent with a low voter turnout of 54 percent.

Ollanta Humala, the outgoing leader from the center-left Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) who has served as president since July of 2011, was legally barred from running again as the Peruvian Constitution allows for a single five-year term with no immediate re-election.

Humala, who came to power as a progressive but has been called everything from a right-wing champion of free enterprise to an Hugo Chávez-esque socialist, has been steadily slipping in popular opinion polls for several years now, and he took his party down with him as no serious candidate ever presented itself on behalf of his PNP.

Despite the fact that Humala’s popularity kept falling since he assumed office, the former military official has, by all accounts, improved economic and social conditions in Peru since defeating the same Keiko Fujimori in the June 2011 second round run-off vote by a tally of 51.4 percent to 48.5 percent.

Saying that he is neither from the left nor right but from “the bottom,” referring to the strata of poor Peruvians, Humala launched a set of social inclusion programs through public spending while also attempting to foster the growing Peruvian economy by encouraging investment and free market policies.

However, even with the positive economic indicators, Humala’s approval rates have been slipping.

This can be attributed to several reasons including a series of scandals that led to allegations of nepotism involving his brother Alexis Humala, accusations of ‘betrayal’ from both the left and right wing sectors of politics and society and the invasive involvement and constant presence of his wife, Nadine Heredia Alarcón de Humala, in domestic and international politics.

More scandals followed: allegations of illegal spending on political advertising by party colleagues and political allies (as part of a scandal that also involved political opponents), the passing of a controversial worker and mining law and increasing public sentiments of insecurity and rising crime.

With low public support for Humala and his government, nearly the entire presidential cabinet resigned and new members were sworn in on several occasions.

As such, there were no visible figures from the current government that threw their hats in the ring by the time the electoral season opened in November of 2015, which opened the way for three major candidates: the aforementioned Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Keiko Fujimori, along with Verónika Mendoza, the young candidate of the center-left Broad Front coalition.

In the first round, Fujimori easily earned top billing with 39.86 percent of the vote while Kuczynski narrowly held off Mendoza for the important second spot (21.05 percent to 18.74 percent). Mendoza then urged her followers to throw their support behind Kuczynski in the second round with the sole purpose of defeating Fujimori.

Other left-leaning and centrist parties followed suit and endorsed Kuczynski, known popularly as PPK, in a show of unity against the frontrunner Fujimori. Although she was the single most popular candidate, she also garnered the most negative reactions from many sectors of Peruvian politics and society, which ultimately led to her loss in the run-off round as PPK was deemed the “lesser of two evils.”

Fujimori’s background played a massive role in her loss: her father is Alberto Fujimori, a Lima native born to Japanese immigrant parents who served as president from 1990 to 2000 on behalf of the right-wing Change 90-New Majority party.

Fujimori’s administration has been labeled by many as a dictatorship as he carried out an ‘autocoup’ of the nation’s parliament (and suspended the constitution) and one marked by rampant corruption. He is believed to have pocketed well over half a billion dollars through corrupt means during his decade in power. His brutality was also notorious as he has been accused (and convicted) of human rights abuses that include kidnapping, torture and mass murder.

In 2009, he was given a 25-year prison sentence (plus another seven-and-a-half-year sentence later), which was effectively a life sentence given his advanced age, for those same human rights abuses as well as a litany of various corruption and illegal enrichment charges.

In January of 2015, another eight-year-term was added to his sentence after he was convicted and sentenced in the case of the “Chicha Press,” the collective term for a group of tabloids employed by Fujimori. He was found guilty of embezzling nearly $45 million of public money, specifically from the military, during his administration in order to buy influence and media support from the tabloids.

The long shadow of Alberto Fujimori certainly reached his daughter and her campaign. Tens of thousands of Peruvians took to the streets on several occasions during the election to reject a possible return of “Fujimorismo.”

Kuczynski took advantage of his opponent’s past during a rally in a Lima suburb when he said that “a child of a thief is probably a thief as well” because “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” Indeed, Keiko, her sister Sachi and her brothers Hiro and Kenji have all been (or are currently being) investigated on a plethora of corruption and embezzlement charges.

Given the elder Fujimori’s crimes of grave human rights abuses, Kuczynski also ominously highlighted Keiko’s promise that her “hands would not tremble” at the thought of making difficult decisions when fighting crime.

It was not just her family history that caused problems for Fujimori, however, as more contemporary events also damaged her profile.

In May, it was revealed that Joaquín Ramírez, the head of Fujimori’s Popular Force party, was being investigated for alleged links with drug trafficking groups in Peru and the United States (in addition to already being investigated for money laundering in both nations). This development only threw more fuel on the fire as no less than 13 elected Popular Force members are being investigated for illegal activities and links to criminal groups.

Furthermore, the Panama Papers leak detailed that several of Fujimori’s biggest backers and financiers (and close friends) were involved with multi-million dollar embezzlement scams while reports also alleged that there were no existent records of Fujimori’s supposed MBA and master’s thesis from New York’s Columbia University.

Despite the controversies, Fujimori still maintained a high level of popularity among a large group of people, drawing on the more populist aspects of her father’s administration: the defeat of the violent, maoist rebel group Shining Path (at the expense of the human rights abuses against suspects and innocent Peruvians all across the country in the process), his staunch pro-market stance and socially conservative policies.

It was because of these stances and her father’s cult-of-personality legacy among a significant section of the electorate that Fujimori’s Popular Force became literally a force. Although she lost the presidential election, her party won big as the Popular Force won 73 seats in the 130-seat unicameral Congress. In comparison, Kuczynski’s PPK won only 18 seats, a development that further showed how the votes for him in the presidential election were mostly votes against Fujimori.

This development ensures that Fujimori will continue to be influential, not to mention that her party will make life very difficult for the incumbent Kuczynski who is already inheriting a divided and politically polarized nation.

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