Kuczynski ahead in Peru election, but will he be able to govern?

Candidate known as ‘PPK’ and backed by alliance of socialists and free-market conservatives has razor thin lead over Keiko Fujimori

After an ill-tempered electoral campaign marked by insults, mockery and allegations of corruption, an unlikely alliance of socialists and free-market conservatives appears to have propelled a 77-year former Wall Street banker to victory in Peru’s presidential election.

Officials suggest it may be days before an official winner is declared. But with the majority of votes counted, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has a razor-thin lead over his rival Keiko Fujimori, 41, the long-time frontrunner in Peru’s election campaign.

Late on Monday Kuczynski’s lead shrank to fewer than 60,000 votes. With tallies from more than 95% of polling stations processed, Kuczynski had 50.2% of the votes compared with Fujimori’s 49.8%. Still to be counted are the ballots of 885,000 Peruvians eligible to vote abroad, the majority living in the US.

A victory for Kuczynski – known popularly as PPK – would be less an endorsement of his policies than a vote of disapproval for his rival, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for directing death squads, embezzlement and bribery during his 1990-2000 government.

“Kuczynski would not have triumphed in these elections were it not for the anti-Keiko vote. That much is clear,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “A significant sector of the population has a high level of awareness of the massive human rights abuses and corrupt practices that characterised the regime of Keiko’s father and are willing to mobilise to prevent a return of Fujimorismo,” she said.

The Kuczynski campaign was significantly boosted by the endorsement of Veronika Mendoza, the former presidential candidate for the leftist Frente Amplio coalition. She exhorted Peruvians to vote for PPK to block a return to power for the Fujimori dynasty.

“We cannot allow Fujimorismo to return to power. It not only represents corrupt practices but a terrible dictatorship,” Mendoza told the Guardian before the vote.

But it seemed clear Mendoza’s last-minute backing for PPK was through gritted teeth. Ahead of the first-round vote in April, Kuczynski described the Quechua-speaking congresswoman as a “half-red who has never done anything in her dog’s life”.

Yet thanks to Mendoza’s grudging endorsement, Kuczynski won in Mendoza’s home region of Cusco and other, largely poor Quechua-speaking southern Peruvian regions such as Apurimac, Puno, Huancavelica and Moquegua.

Before both rounds tens of thousands marched through downtown Lima in electoral rallies against Keiko Fujimori. Artists, intellectuals and actors joined the marches calling on Peruvians not to spoil their ballots and instead choose the “lesser evil” candidate.

“There was citizens’ pressure, from the political forces. This hasn’t happened before, we united for our country, said Monica Sanchez, activist and actress in Peru’s most popular TV soap opera or telenovela, Al Fondo Hay Sitio.

But if the shaky alliance is enough to take Kuczynski to electoral victory, it seems unlikely to last for long.

“It will fall apart immediately when he takes office,” said Steven Levitsky, a political scientist at Harvard University.

Keiko Fujimori continues to have massive appeal among Peru’s poor and loyalists who credit her father with defeating the Shining Path guerrillas in the 1990s and building schools and hospitals in forgotten corners of the country.

With 73 out of 130 members, Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular party has an absolute majority in Peru’s congress. In order to pass legislation, Kuczynski’s 18-member Peruanos por el Kambio party will likely have to seek broader alliances.

But Frente Amplio congresswoman Marisa Glave says her party – set to be the second-largest in the unicameral congress – already has “deep discrepancies” with PPK.

“We hope, like many Peruvians, that he understands that this triumph isn’t a vote in favour of his programme and campaign, it’s a vote of resistance against Fujimorismo,” she told the Guardian.

Glave said her party would not form part of a future Kuczynski-led cabinet but would be willing to facilitate dialogue with activist groups in order to push forward its agenda of reforms in early childhood, education, territorial regulation including land titles for indigenous communities, and decentralisation.

It will be a steep learning curve for the technocrat who confesses to not being a “politician” despite leading a political party.

“He owes his victory to the anti-Fujimori vote but he will have to make a deal with Fujimori’s party in order to govern,” said Levitsky.


Dan Collyns in Lima

The GuardianTramp

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