Peru's Polarized Presidential Race Reaches Finish Line
Voting has begun in Peru to elect the country's president. In the rightnand corner, we have Keiko Fujimori, a 36 year old female candidate (who if elected would be Peru's first female president) whose father, former president Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25 year sentence for corruption and human rights violations.
In the lefthand corner, we have the 48 year old Ollanta Humala, whose brother Antauro is also serving a 25 year sentence for a failed coup attempt. The coup attempt was backed by brother Ollanta, who was then serving as Peru's military attaché In South Korea. To add to the confusion, former President Alejandro Toledo, the man who was the target of the coup, is supporting Humala.
This is the surreal situation that Peru confronts as it goes to the polls. It is a product of the first round of the presidential elections on April 10, when three centrist candidates refused to withdraw in support of the strongest candidate and thus paved the way for a polarized 2nd and final round to the elections.
The polls reveal the sense of polarization and dissatisfaction. 40% have stated that they will never vote for Fujimori, while an equal percent say they will never vote for Humala. 14% will cast blank ballots. Fujimori is backed by younger voters, city dwellers and women, while Humala has the support of older voters, males and the rural population.
Fujimori enjoys the support of the business community that remembers her father favorably for the liberalization process that started Peru on its march towards growth. Humala's base of support is the poorer interior region of the country that has felt itself bypassed by the country's economic boom.
Keiko Fujimori, in order to capitalize on her father's reputation for law and order while avoiding memories about the tactics employed to achieve those goals against the guerilla organizations, took the unusual step of retaining former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as an advisor. She hoped that Giuliani's law and order reputation would rub off on her.
A major issue has been the rise in crime. Fujimori also appears to be running against the Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, who supported Humala in the 2006 presidential election, a tactic that backfired against Humala. Fujimori, while disassociating herself from some of the practices of her father, contrasted him favorably with Chavez, and by implication with Chavez' protégé Humala. Under her father, Peru's government did not display "populist attitudes like those we see on the part of President Chavez."
"My father established an economy that fought against inflation, something that isn't happening in Venezuela," she said. Venezuela is struggling with 23 percent inflation and shortages in goods caused by an attempt to curb inflation by price controls.
In order to cut into Humala's support, Fujimori has promised economic relief to Peru's disadvantaged population. Humala is trying to shake off the shadow of Chavez and would rather be compared to Brazil's former president Lula da Silva, who brought economic growth to his country while caring for the needs of the disadvantaged. He has even sworn on the Bible that he will not emulate Chavez.
The polls are mixed but all predict a photofinish.