Who are the Candidates in the Peruvian Election?
On the 6th of June 2021, the Peruvian elections will take place. Peru has already had the first round of the election, where the initially large number of candidates was slimmed down from sixteen to just two in order to ensure a majority.
Two rounds of voting are more or less the norm in Peruvian elections. The way that the Peruvian electoral system works means that practically anybody can make themselves a candidate, and as a consequence, there are plenty of different people and policies to choose from when it comes to voting. This is why two rounds of elections are commonplace as a true majority is almost never achieved in the first round.
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The current Peruvian elections have been particularly interesting because neither of the top two candidates was initially poll favorites, and so it was a huge surprise when the results of the first round were published.
The two candidates that have been voted in for the second round couldn’t be more different from one another, in both policy and background. Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of an old Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, and Pedro Castillo is a school teacher in Cajamarca, Northern Peru. Keiko is a right-wing authoritarian, whereas Castillo is a left-wing nationalist.
Who are the Candidates for the Peruvian Election?
Pedro Castillo is a primary school teacher who is often seen riding his horse to debates, and rarely without his trademark wide-brimmed cowboy hat. He is also a socialist and a union leader and is well known for causing a political stir- in 2017 he led a teachers’ strike demanding improved conditions for teachers, most notably increased pay. This strike lasted for 75 days across the country and caused considerable chaos.
In 2020, he became the leader of the political party Peru Libre, and this is where his political adventure all began. Castillo’s popularity barely rose throughout his campaigning and it wasn’t until the last moment, just two weeks before the election, did his popularity truly snowball. This snowball pushed Castillo into first place, with an incredible 16 points- much to many people’s dismay.
As polarizing as a socialist almost always is, Keiko Fujimori really does take the controversy cake at this election party. She is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who was the Peruvian president from 1990 to 2000 and currently imprisoned for Human Rights violations, corruption, and a medley of other misdemeanors (to put it lightly).
Keiko herself has twice done time in jail awaiting trial for allegations of money laundering and corruption, which she brazenly denies in the face of pretty damning evidence. She is described as many things, most politely from center-right to extreme right. She has been quoted to say that democracy is a flawed concept and claiming a single point of authority is a more effective way to govern. She describes herself as ‘not a dictator,’ but in preference of ‘hard democracy’.
Keiko has stood for election several times before, and each time she has made it to the second round (where she is currently) and lost by a small margin. In reference to the current elections, she is described- somewhat begrudgingly- as the lesser of two evils by some of her greatest critics.
Who is Leading the Peruvian Election Polls?
Pedro Castillo is leading the charge. He received the largest number of votes out of any of the candidates, winning 16 out of 24 of the electoral districts. Current polls suggest that he will have a 44.9% share of the votes, whereas Keiko has a predicted 40.1% support in a mock poll of 1200 people. The sample size of this poll is by no means large enough to be conclusive, and the undecided voters could easily flip the results one way or another. In other words, it’s anybody’s game right now.
It’s unclear which way the Peruvian election will go. Many people are desperate for change, but many others are terrified of what that change may be if Castillo is victorious. Keiko, as a Fujimori, is fighting against a clouded reputation left by her father (a father that she still considers to be the best president Peru has ever had).
What Do They Stand For?
Pedro Castillo’s Policies
Castillo is a self-confessed Marxist-Leninist and identifies as a far-left nationalist on the political spectrum. With his policies, he has promised the nationalization and extremely heavy taxation of some of Peru’s biggest economies, including mining (10% of the domestic economy, 60% of the exporting economy), gas, oil, and more. He has also promised to rewrite the constitution, and dissolve congress if they stand in his way.
While dissolving Congress isn’t exactly illegal in Peru, it can have pretty drastic rolling consequences. In 2020 the president at the time dissolved congress and in retaliation, Congress removed him from the government. This resulted in widespread protests and marches across the country and saw a tragic loss of lives. Dissolving congress is (rightly) seen as an attack on democracy and could have disastrous effects on both the people of Peru and their faith in government. It’s not great practice that a candidate is threatening to dissolve congress before winning the Peruvian elections.
Healthcare & Education
Castillo has promised to almost double the amount of money that is currently being spent on healthcare (currently 5.24% of the GDP), in an effort to neutralize and combat the sad reality Peru faced during the pandemic; with full public hospitals, people were left to pay for a private clinic- if they could find space there. He has also promised to spend a staggering five times more on education than is currently being spent- bolstering the cash from 2% of the GDP to 10%.
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He plans to achieve this by taxing industries that are predominantly export-based (mining as a key example) a significantly larger amount in order to ensure ‘70% of the wealth stays in Peru’. This is somewhat reminiscent of Evo Morales and his rise to power in Bolivia. It also gives a concern that perhaps this will spread to other industries within Peru.
Nationalization of Industries
Oil and mining are some of Peru’s biggest worldwide economies and have ensured steady and reliable growth for Peru over the past few decades. This has meant that Peru has enjoyed one of the most stable economies in all of Latin America. The nationalization and heavy taxation of these industries could threaten the comfortable economic standing that the country finds itself in. Smaller mining companies will not be able to pay the proposed 70% tax and will be forced to close, which will be harmful to employment rates.
While historically, Peru hasn’t always been what you might call financially responsible with its workers, it does have an extremely comprehensive and well-developed pension scheme- for those who are formally employed. Peruvians who have formal employment have 12% of their paycheck automatically deposited into a pension fund each month- called an AFP.
However, this is another symptom of the class divide within Peru, as there are a large number of people who do not have formal employment- think of cash-in-hand jobs instead of bank account deposits. In 2019 this figure was around 68.4% of the population.
Why is this important? Because if he wins the Peruvian election, Castillo has suggested getting rid of the AFP’s in favor of a National Workers Bank- essentially removing hundreds of thousands of people’s life savings. Because of this, if Castillo is elected, people will flock in their thousands to remove their AFPs from the bank as quickly as possible, which will cause a catastrophic crash of the economy.
Keiko Fujimori’s Policies
Keiko Fujimori is a far-right politician with relatively nationalist-leaning views. She has twice been in grabbing distance of the presidency, and twice failed- once in 2011 and again in 2016. She is a Business post-graduate from Columbia University in the USA and describes her leadership style as ‘not quite a dictatorship, but a strong democracy’.
Economy First & Presidential Pardons
Keiko’s policies are almost the opposite of Castillo’s. She promises to maintain the current mining regulations, which will help with the continuation of the steady upward growth that Peru has enjoyed over the past few decades. She would also completely pardon her father. In short- business more or less as usual (except for the pardon).
It is true that when Alberto Fujimori, Keiko’s father, was in power, Peru saw some of the greatest economic improvements it had seen in decades- and this is a plan that Keiko will attempt to adopt. The bitter taste for many Peruvians (aside from her father’s actions past economics) is what follows so many far-right policies; the rich get richer as the poor get poorer.
When the pandemic hit Peru, it hit particularly hard and shone a rather harsh light on the existing socio-economic disparity that is almost part and parcel of the country, and this light has made people wary about voting for someone who clearly doesn’t have their interests at heart. Some in Keiko’s party have dropped hints that they will focus more on the less fortunate (learning a lesson from both their past mistakes and the feel of the country as a whole).
Unfortunately, these hints have been no more than vague suggestions. There are no concrete statements made, and no guarantee their words are anything but smoke and mirrors in order to secure more votes in an attempt to win the Peruvian election.
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Controversies Behind Each Candidate in the Peruvian Elections
Once examined, neither candidate is the ideal choice. Controversy has plagued both throughout their careers, and greatly shapes the way that the public thinks about each- so let’s take a little dive into each candidate’s past.
Controversy Surrounding Pedro Castillo
There’s less direct controversy surrounding Castillo, the controversy instead surrounds the politics that he follows, including voicing his stance as a Chavista*. The large number of Venezuelans who escaped to Peru from their own ‘socialist’ dictator (currently Nicolás Maduro) have voiced their concerns, and many Peruvians are listening.
*A Chavista is someone who supports Hugo Chavez, the predecessor of the current Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro. While the vast majority agree Maduro is no good for the country, Chavez is much more polarizing. Some see him as the person responsible for the troubles Venezuela currently faces, others see him as a driver of great social programs and positive change.
However, it is not just the Venezuelan population that is wary of the left-wing. South America as a whole has a complicated relationship with left-wing politics, and Peru has its own painful history. Sendero Luminoso, the terrorist group that held the country captive from the 1980s until 2000 identified themselves as a far-left, Maoist Communist group. The scars from this time have not healed for many Peruvians, bringing a level of hostility to left-wing politics, and Castillo’s bid to win the Peruvian election.
There have been rumors and speculation following Castillo, least of all from the Ecuadorian president who has accused Castillo of beginning his career in Sendero Luminoso- although there seems to be little concrete evidence supporting these (quite damaging) claims.
The concern not far from everyone’s mind is whether Castillo would turn Peru into another Venezuela- though his policies seem to be more closely aligned with Bolivia’s Evo Morales instead of Venezuelan politics. Morales has even publicly voiced his support for Castillo.
A Morales-style shake-up still wouldn’t be great for the economy, but it would be significantly better than a Chavez-style shake-up and may benefit the indigenous and the poor. However, it would also be potentially disastrous for many sectors, including Tourism (which accounts for 10% of the economy).
In addition to this, a high tax for large companies in an already sensitive time could cause businesses to collapse and lead to mass unemployment, and too much nationalization will mean that external companies won’t invest in Peru and restrict available jobs and economic growth even further- just like what happened in Bolivia.
Unfortunately, owing to Castillo’s comments about removing the AFP pension fund, along with the already weakening currency, a complete economic crash is likely immediately after the Peruvian election, should he win- and there are very real concerns of mass unemployment further down the line as well.
Keiko Fujimori & Controversy
In Peru, Fujimori is a name that is charged with emotion. Since Keiko is essentially taking over from her father (who is currently imprisoned for 25 years on human rights violations, corruption, and a cocktail of other charges) it is difficult for voters to separate one from the other.
Fujimori & Sendero Luminoso
Alberto Fujimori won the Peruvian elections in 1990, in the midst of a long series of brutal terrorist attacks by the group Sendero Luminoso. During this dark time in Peruvian modern history, an estimated 69,000 murders took place, and an external study conducted in 2019 suggested that the Peruvian Government may have contributed a greater number of these deaths than the terrorist group.
These deaths happened for many reasons, including Fujimori enlisting the Colina Group, which was essentially a secret death squad that would kill suspected members of Sendero Luminoso. Sometimes they were members, sometimes they weren’t. Thousands of families have been torn apart on the hunches and suspicions of Fujimori and his men.
Between 1996 and 2001, 272,028 people were sterilized against their wishes or coerced into the decision, the majority of whom were indigenous or poor women from rural areas. This happened as a way for Fujimori’s government to control the economic downturn and happened under the guise of a family planning assistance program.
Breaking Constitutional Law & Allegations of Corruption
Alberto Fujimori served two presidential terms and then broke constitutional law to run for a third term, with which he was elected then swiftly dismissed from congress and escaped the country to Japan via Chile. In 2002 several offshore accounts were discovered with millions stolen from Peru. Fujimori was eventually extradited and returned to Peru, where he was imprisoned for 25 years.
So, if this was Keiko’s father, what does it have to do with her?
Well, the history of Fujimori’s in Peru gives you a good idea of exactly how many (particularly poor, indigenous, or rural Peruvians) are exceptionally cautious of the Fujimori’s. This, of course, is not helped by Keiko being fairly outspoken on the topic of her father’s innocence, insisting she will pardon him as soon as she is elected, and telling everyone that he is the greatest president Peru has ever had.
Keiko was also the acting First Lady after Fujimori’s wife escaped him claiming torture and cruelty- with three out of four of their children supporting her (excluding Keiko). Her being First Lady means that Keiko had a front-row seat to everything that was happening and cannot reasonably feign ignorance (although she does). She has since -sort of- reconciled with her mother, although her brother publicly accused her of buying votes in 2018.
Keiko herself has been jailed two separate times, each time awaiting trial for charges relating to corruption and money laundering. In fact, she is currently awaiting trial (with no set date) and if convicted, she will likely spend over 30 years in jail.
So, Who Are Sendero Luminoso?
It may seem strange that one of the driving forces behind an election in 2021 is a terrorist group that was formed over 40 years ago, but it would seem that the nature of each candidate surfaces memories that most would rather leave buried. The times of Sendero Luminoso are some of the darkest in modern Peruvian history, and the group is still active today.
On the 23rd of May, 2021, the group massacred between 16 to 18 people in the central highlands of Peru, including two children whose bodies were burned so badly they couldn’t be identified. It is thought that the purpose of this attack was to ‘cleanse the area of parasites, corruption, and bad states of living’, as well as discouraging voting (voting is a legal requirement in Peru).
Around the bodies were leaflets describing anyone who would choose to vote for Keiko Fujimori as a traitor and encouraging abstinence from casting a vote for either party. This is reminiscent of one of their very first terror acts in 1980, where the group burned ballots and the boxes in a village of the province Ayacucho.
This most recent incident is undeniably tragic, but it is a drop in the storm of the atrocities that were previously committed by the terrorist group. The group previously targeted many different people, but particularly the extremely poor, elected officials, leaders of unions, the police and military personnel, and national infrastructure (mostly through explosives, destroying things like roads, railways, bridges, and high voltage towers).
This terror caused an assumed 1 million people to become displaced, and it is estimated that around 69,000 lost their lives- although the number cannot be attributed entirely to Sendero Luminoso, with external evaluations finding that the government was responsible for a much greater number than may have been initially thought. This evaluation found that Sendero Luminoso to be responsible for just 31,000 of these deaths- leaving 38,000 in the hands of the government.
At the peak of their power, the group had control of several areas, cities, provinces, and villages within Peru, mostly concentrated in the central highlands. They gained this control (to simplify the matter somewhat) by turning up to these places and telling the people in the area ‘you are with us or you die’. They would then murder those who resisted and make soldiers out of those who agreed.
Because of this, many people migrated from small villages to Lima, as they felt their families would be safer in the capital city. This is one of the reasons why Lima has such a disproportionately large population, and it is also why many areas have very poor infrastructure.
Unfortunately, those who escaped to Lima did not stay safe for long. In 1989, the group began using car bombs and other threats to attack those in the capital. However, as the group became increasingly more violent, public support for them crumbled.
When Fujimori gained power in 1990, his method of combating the terror was significantly more effective, and aggressive, than his predecessors. He employed the ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ motif and just killed anyone that might have been connected to Sendero Luminoso, including people outside after curfew and other extremely minor misdemeanors.
Fujimori employed undercover spies, and he armed the people in the small towns with weapons so they could defend themselves if the group came- as well as employing undercover death squads who massacred many, many people.
This proved extremely effective and in 1992, the leader of the terrorist group, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, was captured and a series of other high-profile arrests were made throughout 1993. This left the group as essentially nothing and they attached themselves to Narcos groups for survival and protection. This was until the turn of the century when they committed several more massacres against officials and tried to retake several towns- but nothing came close to the levels of the brutality suffered previously.
Castillo has climbed the polls so rapidly and so successfully because many Peruvians, particularly those in rural areas, the poor, and the indigenous, are sick and tired of the way things are. They’re sick of paying taxes and receiving nothing, they’re sick of racism from the cities, and for the first time in a long time, what a politician is promising to provide will benefit them. They can relate to Castillo in a way they never have been able to relate to another politician.
If you have traveled to Peru then you will already know that in the center of cities you can find beautiful buildings, well-kept streets, and plenty of police officers wandering around ensuring peace and security. As you travel further from the center, the houses become more run down. The streets are dustier, and the houses stop being made from bricks and instead, adobe for the lucky ones, and just corrugated iron or wooden sheds for the unlucky ones.
These are the people that have suffered the most from the pandemic, they’re the ones who have been faced with the difficult choices, told not to work at risk of the virus, but without work facing the starvation of themselves and their families. They’re the ones who have felt no benefit from the last 60 years of government leaders, they’re the ones who are sick of business as usual, and ready and willing to gamble on the promise of tomorrow. They literally have nothing to lose.
Keiko has had a relatively consistent level of support over the years, landing her a solid spot in the previous two elections. Those who support her mostly do it because of her fathers’ successful quash of Sendero Luminoso, and the positive effects he had on the economy. If Keiko’s brother is to be believed then it could also be vote-buying (which is not exactly out of character for the Fujimori’s).
However, both Keiko and her father’s seeming lack of humanity, coupled with staggering amounts of money laundered and stolen through corruption have sparked the movement ‘Fujimori Nunca Mas’ (Fujimori no more). Thousands protest against the potential of having another Fujimori in power.
While many people will vote for Keiko in order to avoid having Castillo in power, many more will vote for Castillo in order to not have Keiko in charge. Those who were affected by Sendero Luminoso may hold favorable feelings for Fujimori, but those who were affected by the government’s brutal and bloodthirsty response to the terror have vowed to never vote for a Fujimori again.
Peru is a country with a turbulent past. However, in recent years it has been one of the most stable in all of South America with a growing economy. It is this stability that tempts people to vote for Keiko, as her economic model doesn’t promise aggressive and gambled shake-ups as Castillo’s does. Her politics will likely benefit large business owners and the already rich with very little change befalling the rest of the population.
Castillo represents a much more uncertain future for the country. He promises many things that it just isn’t clear that he would be able to deliver, and if he does get into power, then there is a very big chance of slowed economic growth and a potential recession. His politics are likely to benefit the rural and indigenous populations. Populations that have been all but completely ignored in the past.
Both candidates invoke memories of a painful time in Peru’s history, and neither is likely to serve for the greater interest of each citizen, making the Peruvian elections in 2021 one of the most difficult political choices for Peruvians in recent memory.
Peruvian Elections Update: 28th July 2021
Despite the best efforts of Keiko Fujimori, Pedro Castillo was sworn into the presidency today.
However, all is not well. Castillo has yet to announce his full cabinet with both the economics minister and the human rights minister remaining as open positions. He has announced his prime minister, who is a far-left politician identifying as a Marxist.
Peruvian Elections Update: 25th June 2021
Keiko Fujimori has fought tooth and nail to try and reclaim the Peruvian election from Castillo, but the walls are closing in as she exhausts her resources.
Since the election, Keiko has tried many different tactics to call into question the legitimacy of the election results. Most recently, asking the European Union and Canada to evaluate the election and see if they believed there had been any vote tampering. Both have conducted their own investigations and concluded that the election was ‘free, fair, open, and democratic’. This comes just two days after the USA made the same declaration.
Regardless of this, Keiko’s party insists that these statements do not affect the questions they hold about the elections. They are asking for lists of the voters to attempt to prove fraud, but it doesn’t seem likely to come to fruition.
It seems as though Keiko and her party will continue to fight the results until the time of the presidential changeover comes.
Peruvian Elections Update: 14th June 2021
Despite the Peruvian elections taking place a little over a week ago, it is still not completely clear who will be the next acting president of Peru. Castillo seems to have won the elections, but with such a small margin (around 80 thousand votes), and Keiko claiming voter fraud, there is no definite answer as of yet.
Peruvian Election Fast Stats:
Exit Polls: Keiko wins with 50.2% of the vote.
Current Ballot Recorded Count: 99.935%. This is due to difficulties with some oversees votes and particularly remote indigenous areas in the country.
Current Result: (100% of the vote counted, 99.935% recorded) Castillo in the lead with 50.14% of the vote.
So, Why Aren’t the Results Officially Announced Yet?
The results haven’t been officially announced yet because Keiko is fighting hard against such a small margin. She has filed a complaint against Castillo claiming fraud, which must be investigated before either is announced as president. She has questioned the legitimacy of up to 500,000 votes, just recently taking on some of the best lawyers in the country to attempt to annul 200,000 votes from poorer and indigenous areas of the country, where Castillo claimed an overwhelming victory.
Keiko’s supporters have rallied with a ferocious determination, demanding military intervention to overturn a democratic vote and instate their preferred brand of “democracy”. Keiko is also in warm water relating to her previous jail time. She is accused of breaching bail terms by contacting witnesses- if this is proved she faces returning to jail until her trial.
In contrast to this, Castillo has accepted the presidency and given a statement saying that his Government would respect the democracy of the country, the existing constitution, as well as the economic stability of the country. This is no doubt in response to the reasons many had for voting against Castillo, and his way of calming the general population and the large external investors in Peru.
He has also since backed down on his claims of mass-nationalization, which, given the predominantly right-wing congress, would have been an extremely long road and potentially difficult to achieve regardless.
It looks as though Castillo will be the next president of Peru, and he has backed down on some of his less popular, extreme left, policies. He also seems keen to allow the continuation of the economic growth it has enjoyed over the past few years, while still making changes that would benefit the poor and indigenous populations.
Keiko is fighting back hard against her loss, but the majority of her complaints were submitted after the legal deadline. Her strategy since her loss is focused on disregarding poor and indigenous voters which, with her family’s track record, is a less than ideal manner of claiming power. However successful or unsuccessful she is with this fight, her struggle will cause Castillo problems and open many cracks for others to claim he is an illegitimate leader.
Through the confusion and the clashes, it’s clear that Peru is in for a potentially rough few years politically.