Peru votes this Sunday with the feeling of being at the most momentous moment in its recent history. The two candidates to preside over the country for the next five years are perceived by society as a danger to Peru’s unstable political system. The Government has had five different presidents in the last five years, one per year. All heads of state elected since 1986 have spent time in prison for corruption cases. At this point, it is now time to choose between Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the autocrat Alberto Fujimori, a conservative and populist politician whose party and herself are involved in corruption, and a radical left-wing professor, Pedro Castillo, socially conservative and unpredictable in the rest. They arrive tied in the polls after a harsh and aggressive campaign. The winner, predictably, will do so by a handful of votes.
The election comes at a time of crisis. Peru has registered more than 185,000 deaths from covid-19, which places it as the country with the most deaths per capita in the world. The pandemic has highlighted the failures of the public health system. Many people have died without medical supervision or oxygen tanks. Those who have gone to private healthcare have on occasions gone into debt forever. There are cases of Peruvians who do not collect the corpse of their relatives because they cannot afford the costs of the clinic, of up to $ 300,000.
The economy is not better. Two weeks after the first round of elections, on April 26, Peru registered the historical maximum of the interbank exchange rate -3.84 soles the sale per dollar-. Similar figures have been repeated in the week before the polls. On June 3, the national currency depreciated to 3.86 soles per dollar. The Peruvian economy fell 11% in 2020 -the biggest setback in three decades- due to strict confinement due to the pandemic between March and June, and also caused an increase of 10 percentage points of poverty compared to 2019: currently almost 10 million of people cannot meet their essential needs, that is, 30% of the population.
The two voting options seemed the most unlikely when the campaign for the first round began. Keiko Fujimori had squandered almost all of his political capital in recent years after he claimed in 2016 that his elections had been stolen and since then, with a majority in Congress, has made the country’s governance difficult. In parallel, cases of corruption surrounded him, which added to his name, delved into the idea that he is the head of a kleptocracy. However, the vote was tremendously fragmented and she stood out, with 13% of the votes, over the rest of the right-wing options.
The most voted then, by surprise, was Castillo, who became known in 2017 by leading a teachers’ strike. Four years later not many remembered him. But Castillo, with a speech in favor of the poor and the historical inequality that exists in the country, against the business oligarchies and the caste system, toured the country, from end to end. He exhibited an uncomplicated speech against freedoms such as homosexual marriage or abortion, and went as far as to say that he would introduce the death penalty. Then he rectified. That has been a constant in his campaign. He is attached to a Marxist-Leninist party that leads a very dogmatic politician, but he does not call himself a communist although he embraces many of his theses. In that mess of yes, but the last month has not passed. He went to cast his vote in the ballot box on a horse that was startled when he saw the crowd waiting for the candidate.
Thus, the two remained, face to face. The campaign has been very tough. The Peruvian establishment has massively opted in favor of Keiko. The big cities have been filled with panels warning of the arrival of communism, of a Chavista Peru on the horizon, that we are on the verge of seeing Peruvians fleeing by raft like in Cuba. It goes without saying that they were indirect against Castillo, any passerby would step on each other. Almost any time the television is turned on, Keiko appears, in magazine programs and reality shows. She has been seen at noon cooking a recipe for seco, a typical dish; in the afternoon on a show with her daughters and a celebrity. Two days before, she was interviewed for two hours by Magaly Medina, who hosts the program with the highest audience. In other programs, the presenters, even if she was not there, wore the shirt of the Peruvian soccer team, which has been Fujimori’s clothing. They called to think “in freedom, in investment and against communism.”
Castillo has hardly given interviews to the media. When he wants to make some precision about a controversy, he briefly enters a radio station called Exitosa. His campaign has been more classic. As his adversaries want to relate him to Maduro, he broadcast live an interview with José Mujica, the former Uruguayan president turned secular saint of the democratic and austere left. The financial power is not convinced. Some businesses in Lima have walled up their stores for fear of looting and vandalism if Castillo is defeated. There are those who interpret these gestures as one more form of propaganda in favor of Fujimori.
Polls favored Castillo for the entire month. In the last week Fujimori has caught up with him. There is a technical tie. The photo finish will decide which of the two takes power.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.