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Peru’s presidential election hardened into a two-horse race on Sunday with Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the disgraced former president, looking likely to face a run-off with Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist.
Even after a campaign that thrust the dark autocratic past of Alberto Fujimori back into the spotlight, early results suggested that his daughter had beaten Mr Kuczynski — although not by the outright majority needed to avoid a second round of voting on June 5.
With about 40 per cent of votes counted, conservative candidate Ms Fujimori was leading with 39.2 per cent, while Mr Kuczynski, a former mining minister for one of the world’s mineral powerhouses, had 24.2 per cent. Quick counts by polling firms also put Ms Fujimori on some 39 per cent, and the latter on 21 per cent.
“I have a commitment of honour with my country,” Ms Fujimori said. “The future of Peru is already marching on.”
Leftist Verónika Mendoza, who had gained ground, seems poised to lose her ticket in the runoff after taking 16.6 per cent of the votes counted so far.
Whoever takes the reins as Peru’s next president will have to wrestle with simmering mining conflicts, straighten a discredited political system and ensure Latin America’s fastest-growing major economy remains on track amid a commodities downturn.
Although Ms Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular party appears set to secure the largest representation in congress, this presidential election has been established “in terms of the anti-Fujimori voting against Fujimori”, according to Luis Benavente, a political analyst with the Lima-based consultancy Vox Populi. She may therefore face stiff opposition in the second round, particularly as those who despise her father’s divisive rule will likely rally behind her rival.
Ms Fujimori, a 40-year-old Columbia-trained lawmaker, was Peru’s first lady as a teenager and lost the presidency to President Ollanta Humala in 2011. She has since tamed her rightwing views, pledging not to repeat the autocratic ways of her father, who closed Peru’s congress in 1992 and was later jailed for corruption and human rights violations.
Despite this, many Peruvians still praise Ms Fujimori’s father for straightening the country’s once-ravaged economy.
To spur economic growth, which has slowed since 2014 amid lower mineral prices and declining Chinese demand, Ms Fujimori has promised to tap Peru’s rainy day fund to boost infrastructure and public works. She also said she would establish norms to allow communities around mining projects to have some shareholding options.
Meanwhile, Mr Kuczynski, a 77-year-old Oxford-educated former prime minister, has vowed to trim sales taxes and cut red tape to streamline investments. He has said he aims to entice mining investors, and lift economic growth from last year’s 3.3 per cent to 5 per cent.
“We are the centre,” he told the Financial Times. “What means being at the centre? Very simple: great economic growth to finance social investments.”
For Alejandro Córdoba, a voter who works as a security guard in Lima, Mr Kuczynski “is a man with many years of experience who is not going to improvise. He wants to spur the country’s economy, and has the knowledge and willingness to do so. Keiko is a Fujimori, so she is dangerous for Peru’s democracy.”
Security is a concern for Peruvians, as on the eve of the vote seven people were killed in an ambush by suspected remnants of the Maoist Shining Path insurgency — now allegedly involved in drug-trafficking. Ms Fujimori is seen as the toughest candidate, partly because many applaud her father for crushing the rebels.
“Keiko is the one who will combat insecurity and narcoterrorists,” says Diomedes Dionisio, a 45-year-old teacher from Chincha. “She will regain her father’s leadership, who placated the terrorist barbarism. Thanks to him we are where we are today. She grew into a seasoned politician, so will also do great.”
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