More than 15 years after his resignation from the presidency in the wake of an immense corruption scandal, Alberto Fujimori remains Peru’s most divisive figure. Some regard the former president–now serving a lengthy prison sentence in Lima for two massacres carried out by death squads under his rule during the 1990s—as a success because of his economic record and because of his crackdown on the Shining Path insurgency. Many others disdain him for the corruption and human rights abuses committed during his rule.
It is no surprise that a bid for the presidency by Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori, has brought those divisions to the center of Peru’s politics. Yet this has been hardly the only divisive issue this electoral season. Indeed, as in previous elections, Peruvians remain polarized over the country’s free-market economic model, which has been in place since the 1990s. On the one hand, Peru has become one of Latin America’s top economic performers, with annual growth rates averaging around six percent for over a decade, an expanding middle class, declining poverty rates, and major transformations in the country’s big cities. On the other hand, many Peruvians, particularly in the country’s rural interior, are frustrated by what they perceive as an unequal distribution of wealth.
Fujimori seems to have acknowledged that her father’s record could do her more harm than good.
That discontent has allowed leftist candidates to perform better than many expected in Peru’s recent presidential elections—in 2006, 2011, and finally in the first-round presidential vote held this year on April 10. With nearly 40 percent of the ballots, Fujimori came in a handy first place, but failed to secure the majority she needed to avoid a runoff election with the second-place candidate in June. Perhaps more striking is the fact that Verónika Mendoza, a psychologist and fluent Quechua speaker representing a coalition of leftist parties, managed to threaten the business-friendly former finance minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s second-place finish.
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