South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
Former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has won the tightest presidential election in Peru in more than 50 years, defeating Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of an imprisoned former autocrat by the narrowest of margins — just 41,438 votes
Four days after the election with 100 per cent of the votes processed, Mr Kuczynski edged the campaign by a whisker, with 50.1 per cent of the polls.
He said from Lima on Thursday: “We want a united country, reconciled, and ready to have a dialogue. Let’s not confuse dialogue with weakness. We are going to be decisive but we will work for all Peruvians.”
Mr Kuczynski, a 77-year-old flautist and former finance minister known as PPK, will become the country’s oldest elected president at the time of taking office.
Outgoing president Ollanta Humala, who is constitutionally barred from seeking immediate re-election, will hand over the presidency to him late next month.
The election campaign divided Peruvians between those cheering and those fearing the rise of Ms Fujimori, whose father Alberto sent soldiers to dissolve congress and purged the judiciary in Peru’s so-called auto-coup in 1992.
An Oxford and Princeton-educated former Wall Street banker, Mr Kuczynski won support from left-wingers who sought to block the return of another Fujimori.
We want a united country, reconciled, and ready to have a dialogue. Let’s not confuse dialogue with weakness. We are going to be decisive but we will work for all Peruvians
He also picked up endorsements from Peru’s most famed intellectuals who, in the past, lost to the elder Fujimori: former UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
Mr Kuczynski has a record as a prudent economic manager and analysts are hopeful that he can attract investment in a country that is the world’s second-largest copper producer after Chile, according to a senior Peruvian official.
But analysts warn that Mr Kuczynski faces legislative roadblocks.
“His party has just 18 seats in Peru’s 130-member Congress, which leaves him politically isolated from the start,” said Katie Micklethwaite, senior Latin America analyst at consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
“Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular party has a majority of seats in Congress, giving them the power to block Kuczynski’s policy initiatives. Their record under the outgoing Humala administration indicates they are likely to do just that.”
During his campaign, Mr Kuczynski repeatedly raised the spectre of Ms Fujimori’s father, who remains in jail for corruption and crimes against humanity.
Democracy and common sense have won. Not because of PPK, but thanks to the biggest party in today’s Peru: those citizens who abhor dictatorship
The polyglot son of a Polish-German doctor who came to South America to run a leper colony in the Amazon, Mr Kuczynski targeted the political centre and pledged to deliver economic growth to fund social investments.
Peru’s economy has been hit hard by falling mineral prices, and Mr Kuczynski has pledged to lift gross domestic product growth to 5 per cent by trimming taxes, cutting red tape and enticing mining investors, along with greater infrastructure spending.
Peru’s economy is forecast to grow 4 per cent in 2016, recovering thanks to an output boost at large mines. But Nomura, the financial services group, has cautioned that this boost “will eventually vanish from the growth numbers and a sustained economic recovery will depend on domestic demand”.
Alfredo Thorne, the investment banker who is likely to become finance minister, has warned Peruvians they face “the challenge of an economy where commodities won’t be the main driver any more”. In a country where an estimated 70 per cent of work is informal, his goal is “to formalise them through market instruments” and build “popular capitalism”.
But Oswaldo Molina, a Lima-based economist, said lower mineral prices would make it harder for a Kuczynski government to achieve growth than previous administrations.
“Keeping up with Peru’s record of slashing poverty rates will be a tough challenge,” he said.
That will make it harder for Mr Kuczynski, whose power base lies among the urban wealthy, to broaden his backing.
Ms Fujimori, like her father, found support among poorer Peruvians. After narrowly losing the last presidential contest in 2011, she travelled to some of the country’s remotest areas and shantytowns to build support for her party — winning a majority in congress.
Ms Fujimori’s younger brother, Kenji, was recently elected as a lawmaker with more votes than any other candidate, and has vowed to run for the presidency in 2021. “Kenji now inherits Fujimorism and could become a headache,” said Felipe Ortíz de Zevallos at the Apoyo consultancy.
With the Fujimoris controlling more than 70 of 130 seats in Peru’s congress, analysts believe Mr Kuczynski and members of his party will have to make concessions.
“They … face a big challenge putting into practice political negotiations in order to be able to deal with the Fujimoristas as well as the other political groups and those citizens who voted for them without really backing them for their own merits,” said Paula Muñoz, a political scientist at Lima’s Universidad del Pacífico.
Gustavo Gorriti, a renowned journalist who was kidnapped during Alberto Fujimori’s regime, put it another way: “Democracy and common sense have won. Not because of PPK, but thanks to the biggest party in today’s Peru: those citizens who abhor dictatorship.”