When we arrived in Peru in January, the campaign for the April 2016 general election was in full swing. There were election billboards in the big towns and in the poorer parts election slogans painted on whitewashed walls. The current president is not running because he has reached the limit on terms that a president can serve under Peruvian law. It is a bit of a horse race with 17 candidates in total and 5 front runners (those polling more than 5%- see english wikipedia page on the 2016 Peruvian election).
Our understanding of the election was formed on the basis of campaign posters, tabloid headlines and the opinions and from Peruvians that we met.
The two front runner candidates we seemed to hear a lot about are Cesar Acuna and Keiko Fujimori. Cesar Acuna (pronounced Ah Coon ya) has his name painted on almost any blank wall in Northern Peru. He has Stephen Harper hair, bleached teeth and a “can do” thumbs up pose.
According to the taxi drivers Acuna is wealthy and corrupt and we did not find anyone in our travels that liked him. His team seemed to paint every blank wall in the northern Peru. His slogan talks about believing that Peru will change. Here is one of his posters.
Acuna wins the most airbrushed campaign photo as is evident from this recent photo taken of him:
The reason he looks so happy is because he is doing a polygraph test in response to reports that he plagiarized his PHD. Here is what he said about the matter:
“In the first place I refuse the word plagiarism. As I have always said, it was an omission and this was 25 years ago when I still didn’t know that I would be a presidential candidate. Applaud for me, come on people!”
According to an article in Peru This Week the entire thesis was originally published under the name of a Spanish academic. However, in subsequent version Acuna was listed as co-author and then sole author. That is quite an omission, I wonder what part of the PHD did he actually author the jacket cover?
The next front runner is Keiko Fujimori. Her party, the popular force promises to continue the work of her dad of “combatió el terrorismo”. Alberto Fujimori was the controversial president in the 1990’s who is now serving a prison sentence for corruption and human rights violations. He was known as “el chino” even though he was Japanese. Continuing with the tradition his daughter is “la china”.
Despite the apparent racism in the nickname, her dad was a popular president. The taxi drivers in Trujillo and people in small towns credit Fujimori with ending the dispute with Ecuador, Shining Path insurgency and hyper inflation. Eliot will then press “but he is corrupt and in jail”- “claro” (of course) the drivers all say a but he brought stabilidad.
In my undergrad polio-sci courses I always wondered why South Americans elect authoritarians. I thought it was a sign of ignorance. However, talking to the Peruvians and hearing from Eliot what it was like to grow up in a time of violence, I realize that maybe the votes are guided by pragmatism.’
Keiko is less accomplished than her dad and the only thing she excelled in during her term as a congresswoman was absenteeism.
You wonder whether she would have a chance if she was not Alberto’s daughter. However, as a Canadian I better hold my judgement. Some Peruvians we met in the Andes indicated that they did not want a china foreigner as a president. However, she is most popular with the campo folk and you always see her wearing a cross and sometimes wearing Andino clothing to try and bridge that gap.
The only scandal we know of so far is that her dad probably used state funds to pay for her Ivy league education. Her excuse was that she mixed up soles and US$.
Other candidates include Alan Gonzalez. His campaign does not bother with airbrushing because there would be nothing left. We saw a sign painted on a rock face to elect Alan in 2006 so I guess he is at it again.
In the fancy Lima neighbourhood of Miraflores we did not see many Keiko posters. We did see the candidate Yehude Simon who is on the left side of the political spectrum. Yehude is of Jewish and Italian heritage but I do not think they call him “el Judeo”.
All in all from what we can see Peru has a very lively democracy. Lots of diversity, some corruption and a bit of racism thrown in. We did speak with some young people who did indicate that there were candidates that they thought were good and were not merely consolation candidates.