Fujimorismo represents more than just nostalgia for Mr Fujimori’s achievements of vanquishing the terrorism of the Shining Path and launching economic growth.
PERHAPS it is a sign of the times in Latin America that both the candidates in Peru’s run-off ballot for the presidency, on June 5th, support the continuation of the free-market policies that have made the country one of the region’s most successful economies. After all, Peru is heading for economic growth of around 4% this year, while the region as a whole faces its second year of recession. What is at stake in the election is something more basic, if the campaign rhetoric is to be believed: what kind of government do Peruvians want, and for whom should it govern?
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a liberal former economy minister, argues that victory for his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, means “the return of dictatorship, corruption and lies”, as he put it in the final campaign debate on May 29th. “I am convinced that freedom is at serious risk in Peru,” he declared. That claim is based mainly on heredity. Ms Fujimori’s father, Alberto, ran the country as an elected autocrat for ten years. In 1992 he sent troops to shut down Congress. He is serving long prison sentences for corruption and human-rights abuses.
In a country with almost no real political parties, “anti-Fujimorismo” has become the most powerful political ideology. That is why Mr Kuczynski has a chance in the run-off ballot, despite having won only 21% of the vote in the first round in April, when Ms Fujimori secured 40%. He has other electoral disadvantages: he is 77, and he has spent long periods working in the United States, as an investment banker and businessman. He is fit—he goes to the gym most days. “It’s age versus lack of experience,” he says of the contest. He has a deep-rooted commitment to public service: he set up an NGO to campaign for drinking water for all, and his father ran a leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon.
Ms Fujimori insists she is her own woman. In person, she displays both charm and sharper political instincts than her opponent. She has pledged to rule as a democrat. After narrowly losing the election in 2011, she has spent the past five years campaigning incessantly, visiting remote Andean villages and urban shantytowns. Her pitch is that she is a truer representative of Peruvian society and that she alone can offer effective government. Her party, Popular Force, is better established than most. It has won a majority of the seats in Congress. Her aides portray Mr Kuczynski and his team of advisers as desk-bound and naive. “He can do a good government for big companies,” says José Chlimper, Ms Fujimori’s running-mate. She stresses a need for government to help small business.
Underlying the campaign are Peru’s cleavages of race and class. Fujimorismo represents more than just nostalgia for Mr Fujimori’s achievements of vanquishing the terrorism of the Shining Path and launching economic growth. It is also in part a rejection of Peru’s traditional “white” elites. It stands for popular capitalism and an emerging middle class, though Ms Fujimori’s opinion-poll lead among poorer Peruvians also stems from her father’s clientelism.
Fujimorismo represents Peru’s vast informal economy, too, and the values of a society where growth has brought higher incomes but not (yet) widespread adherence to the rule of law. In May a television programme aired a report in which an official of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that the agency was investigating Joaquín Ramírez, the general secretary of Popular Force, apparently for laundering drug money. A former bus-fare collector who now possesses a business empire spanning property and football clubs, Mr Ramírez is the chief financier of Ms Fujimori’s campaign. Peruvian prosecutors have been investigating Mr Ramírez, who denies wrongdoing, since 2014. Ms Fujimori waited for three days after the DEA story broke before asking him to “step aside”.
This revelation would have doomed many a candidate. Yet in the next fortnight Ms Fujimori opened up a small but probably decisive lead of four to six points in the opinion polls. Either many Peruvians don’t care about Mr Ramírez’s conduct, or they accept his claim that he is maligned as a self-made cholo con plata (a man of mixed race with money). But if Ms Fujimori is to provide Peru with the more effective state it needs, not least to fight rising crime, she must choose aides who are above suspicion.
The main reason for believing that her victory, assuming it happens, would not entail political regression is not just that she is not her father. Peruvian democracy is stronger than it was in the 1990s, and both the media and civil society are less biddable than they were. But Peruvians will need to be alert.
The Economist | Bello