The last electoral poll began to run through social networks this Saturday afternoon. Peruvians have lived in recent weeks stuck to polls that, instead of clearing up unknowns, have opened more and more questions in the face of the presidential elections that take place this Sunday. Up to six candidates remain with options to go to a second round in what promise to be the tightest elections in the history of Peru. Not a single name exceeds 13% in vote estimation and the distance between the first six is minimal. As if it were a marathon, the applicants have been relieved first place without awakening the slightest illusion among the electorate. Voters go to the polls so disenchanted that the favorite topic of conversation is pondering how long the next president can last. A country that in 10 days had three presidents last November knows how short-lived a mandate can be.
“Do you know someone who votes for Pedro Castilllo?” is the big question on the eve of the elections. The union school teacher, leader of Peru Libre, is the one with the most options this Sunday, with a 12.8% vote estimate, according to the latest survey. In Lima, where a quarter of the total population resides (32.5 million inhabitants), Castillo barely gets 4% of the vote. The professor, considered to be on the radical left, became known in 2017 for leading massive protests against the periodic evaluation of teachers. Four years later, with his wide-brimmed hat typical of the Andean region where he was born and riding a horse, he caresses the dream of reaching the presidency of the country.
Castillo, who has in his closest circle admirers of North Korean leaders, proposes to overthrow the Constitutional Court if he comes to power and has openly demonstrated against abortion, homosexual marriage, euthanasia and the gender approach in the school. “You have to defend the family at school,” he says, concerned that “that ideology will get into the children’s heads.”
Behind the leader of Peru Libre are the two conservative candidates Keiko Fujimori and Hernando de Soto, who are barely separated by a handful of votes. Both fight for the same niche of voters, among which are the irreducible of Fujimori and the conservatives who have turned their backs on the daughter of the autocrat Alberto Fujimori, involved, like her imprisoned father, in a judicial process for corruption. The leader of Popular Renovation, Rafael López Aliaga, also arrives at the final battle at the polls. A conservative politician who calls himself Porky, confesses to being celibate and in love with the Virgin and assures that he wears a hair shirt daily. The moderate left leader, Verónika Mendoza, also starts with the possibility of reaching the second round, with a 9% vote according to the polls.
A total of 25,287,954 voters will decide (in Peru, voting is mandatory) amid the worst moment of the coronavirus pandemic. The Health Ministry reported on Saturday that 384 people died of covid on Friday, the highest daily figure on record. Beyond the official data, the real number is unknown. Hospitals are collapsed and hundreds of people queue endless to get oxygen for their infected relatives, who are being treated (and dying) at home due to the lack of beds in medical centers.
Of the six candidates who have options to go to the second round of the presidential elections this Sunday, only two represent leftist forces: Castillo himself, on the radical left and socially conservative, and Verónika Mendoza, progressive, online with a more classical social democracy. In January, in the middle of the second wave of the covid, many Peruvian families began to sell their goods to buy oxygen, a scenario that has been repeating itself until now. Mendoza then announced that if he reached the presidency he would make use of an article of the General Health Law that allows the State to take temporary control of oxygen production and thus ensure supply. The proposal caused fright among its detractors and the majority of the Peruvian press, who understood the measure as an attempt to expropriate the private sector.
“Peruvians have to decide whether they want the country to become Cuba or Venezuela,” Keiko Fujimori said in an interview on radio this Friday, promising “a strong hand to save Peru again.” The stigma against the left is still very present in Peru. Politicians and conservative press feed a campaign of fear that tries to link the left with the Shining Path terrorism, on the one hand, and with Chavismo, on the other. Conservatives put Mendoza and Castillo in the same bag of what they consider a “radical left.”
During the electoral campaign, the question that the Juntos por el Perú candidate has answered the most times has been whether Venezuela is a dictatorship. The psychologist, who ran for the presidency for the first time in 2016, then described the government of Nicolás Maduro as “a weak democracy”, but in February 2018 she rectified: “Yes, I can say that Venezuela is a dictatorship.” Since then, he keeps repeating it in every interview. Mendoza won the two televised candidate debates during the campaign, according to the percentages broadcast by television channels and two Lima newspapers, but even so, he has never finished taking off in the polls. “He is too progressive for the majority of Peru, his arrival is for a more educated sector of the country,” the director of the Ipsos Peru polling station, Alfredo Torres, explained to the foreign press, who ventured that the reason that Castillo is ahead is than to look for it in the economic and social crisis resulting from the pandemic: “In times of instability like this, it attracts more the most radical spirit.”
Peru faces the perfect moment for anti-politics. The credibility of the country’s institutions is nil, with six of the last seven presidents accused of corruption. The traditional parties lack any weight, devastated by candidates who only respond to different interest groups – economic or religious and embrace an acronym temporarily, without any ideology or militancy behind. The only party with a history behind it competing to reach the second round, Popular Action, shows how difficult it is to understand Peruvian politics. It is a center-right party whose candidate, Yonhy Lescano, is a populist with some left-wing economic proposals and a social conservative. Lescano led the polls between February and March, but his strength has been deflating in recent days.
“Love that, love hers, love llulla” [”No seas flojo, no robes, no seas mentiroso”] says Lescano’s motto against corruption. A phrase that the candidate attributes to the empire of the Incas against the opinion of historians. Corruption is another of the keys to these elections, the cause of the enormous disaffection of voters by politics and considered by Peruvians the first problem in the country. The great scandal began in 2016, when the Odebrecht case uncovered the illegal contracts between the Brazilian construction company and the governments of former presidents Alejandro Toledo, Alan García [que se suicidó en 2019 antes de ser detenido], Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. But former presidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Mayors, judges, congressmen and prosecutors have been parading before the courts for illegal fixes of all kinds.
In the midst of the entries and exits of the jail of the most recognized public positions, everything exploded again in November of last year. A group of congressmen, protected by an article of the Constitution, threw President Martín Vizcarra from power, which was considered a kind of coup d’état. Huge youth-led protests filled the streets for a week. The violent police repression ended the lives of two of them and the pressure forced the resignation of the new interim president, which forced to look for a replacement, the current Francisco Sagasti, in charge of leading the country to the elections, whose second round will be held in June. If Peru had any hope of overcoming the deep political crisis that began five years ago, it does not look like it will be this Sunday.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.