Peru’s fragile democracy still faces twin threats from Fujimorismo


Peru’s presidential election hung in the balance on Monday, with the economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (left) holding the narrowest of leads over Keiko Fujimori, daughter of a disgraced former president, The Financial Times reports:

With 92.5 per cent of votes counted, Mr Kuczynski was marginally ahead with 50.32 per cent, ahead of Ms Fujimori on 49.68 per cent — meaning his lead was a little over 103,000 votes…Augusto Alvarez Rodrich, a Peruvian political commentator, explained Mr Kuczynski’s sucess as “strong anti-Fujimorismo”.

While both candidates campaigned on similar free-market platforms, many in the region saw the election as a referendum on the legacy of Mr. Fujimori, whose rule turned authoritarian as he suspended the country’s Constitution in a conflict with the Shining Path, a Marxist rebel group, The New York Times reports.

Quick counts are typically accurate, said Jo-Marie Burt, a political scientist and Peru expert at George Mason University.

“If that is the case, that would mean that PPK has squeaked by,” she said. “And what is interesting about that is that it reveals how polarizing a figure Keiko Fujimori is in her own right.”

“Keiko tried very hard to clean up Fujimorismo’s image but it has just been impossible,” said Steven Levitsky, a political scientist and Latin America expert at Harvard:

Fujimorismo has an incredibly corrupt and criminal past and everyone below Keiko was just a mess. She had almost no one she could put on TV and be confident they would behave in a democratic way. One by one, she ended up hiding each of her spokespeople in the closet. Toward the end of the campaign, Fujimorismo fell silent.

“Observers of Peruvian politics differ over how much (or how little) Fujimorismo has changed since Alberto’s fall from power,” according to Levitsky (a contributor to the Journal of Democracy) and John Carey, the Wentworth professor in the social sciences at Dartmouth College.

“Some believe the party remains unreconstructed – and controlled by Alberto. Others believe the party has moderated somewhat under Keiko Fujimori. But few, if any, observers believe that the Fujimoristas are committed liberal democrats,” they write for The Washington Post:

April’s legislative outcome has already reshaped Peru’s political terrain. With its unexpected legislative majority, Fujimorismo — a party associated with corruption and criminal activity – will be able to shield itself from legislative and judicial oversight. And Peru’s still-fragile democracy could face the twin threats of a disciplined presidential majority and a governing party with illiberal — and perhaps authoritarian — tendencies.

“PPK found his groove [last] week,” said Julio Carrión, a Peruvian political scientist at the University of Delaware. “PPK was able to articulate the anti-Fujimori sentiments of many Peruvians who are fearful of a return to the authoritarian past.”

PERU encuestas-imageFujimori’s Achilles heel is the perception that she and her loyal Popular Force party are venal characters vying to reinstate the legacy of her father and are interested in power largely to raid public coffers, analyst Simeon Tegel writes for Foreign Policy:

Since crushing a splintered field in the first round of presidential elections in April, taking 40 percent of the vote, her commitment to clean politics and the rule of law — demonstrated by theatrically signing a document guaranteeing freedom of the press and respect for democratic norms — has come under heavy scrutiny. Her clientelistic deal-making with shady interest groups operating on the fringes of the law, along with Popular Force’s new outright majority in Peru’s 130-member, single-chamber Congress, has left many voters, desperate for a firm hand to guide a country plagued by organized crime, cocaine trafficking, and, rampant graft, worried about a repeat of Fujimori senior’s abuses if she becomes president.

After an inconclusive first round result and an ugly second round campaign, Kukzynski, widely known as PPK, looks set to eke out the narrowest of victories, Coventry University’s Neil Pyper writes.

“PPK’s comeback isn’t so much a ringing endorsement of his tired, technocratic campaign as a mark of deep concern about Fujimori’s democratic credentials,” he suggests.

If he wins, Kuczynski will have to reckon with a solid majority of Fujimori’s party in Congress and a leftist party that has promised not to align with either of them, Reuters adds.

peru TransparenciaFujimori is a populist who gains from some parts of her father’s reputation for rescuing Peru’s economy and defeating the terrorists of the Shining Path, note analysts Tomas Dosek and Maritza Paredes. But she’s simultaneously feared for her association with the rest of his reputation, including accusations that he dissolved democratic checks on his power, deployed death squads, took bribes and rigged votes, they write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage:

Fujimori’s supporters come from almost every socioeconomic level in Peru. To be technical, at the aggregate level, there is a rather weak positive correlation between the Human Development Index (HDI multiplied by 100) and percentage of votes in each province. In other words, Fujimori’s voters came from both the more and less well-off provinces, as did her father’s in his time. That support is especially strong from poor rural and possibly also lower-class urban voters, often acquired using clientelistic strategies.

The legacy of this right-wing populist who dissolved congress and the judiciary in an “auto-coup”, sent in tanks and soldiers, and later resigned by fax from Japan to avoid trial over alleged corruption and human rights violations, continues to split the country and cast a shadow over his daughter’s campaign, The FT adds.

“This is, once again, an election between those favouring Fujimorismo and those against Fujimorismo,” says Luis Nunes, a Lima-based political analyst.

“Peru’s case is problematic ,” analyst Heber Campos told Al Jazeera.

“It has grown between 8 and 9 percent, has a huge surplus, and despite this there are communities that don’t have, for example, their sanitation needs resolved.

“It’s absurd. It proves the incompetence of our political class who are insensitive to these needs.”

Peru stands out for its adherence over the past 15 years to democratic capitalism, during a time when the authoritarianism of chavismo emanating from Venezuela gained ground in neighboring countries, notes one analyst. Even the 2011 election of Ollanta Humala—an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez who died in 2013—didn’t derail Peru’s capitalist revolution.

peru Asociación Civil TransparenciaBoth candidates competing in the second round of Peru’s elections have pledged to push for electoral reform and have signed a joint commitment to that end. Civil society will need to hold the next president to this commitment, as well as push for even greater reforms, analyst Ronnie Farfan writes for the Open Society Foundation:

To that end, Asociación Civil Transparencia [a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy] has launched a website [link in Spanish] that allows Peruvians to view campaign expenditures, compare the various proposals put forth by the candidates, monitor the government’s various Twitter accounts for neutrality, and verify the information that the candidates release about their backgrounds. We also are pressing for institutional reforms to strengthen democracy, and have put forward a series of proposals to improve the efficiency of congress, the judiciary, public administration, and election processes. These proposals include creating transparency mechanisms for the financing of political parties, having members of Congress hold public meetings with their constituents in the regions they represent to listen to their needs and demands, and improving the process for selecting judges for the Supreme Court. Lastly, Asociación Civil Transparencia is also in the process of building an online platform that will allow Peruvians to submit and debate their own proposals for strengthening the country’s democracy.

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