Peru’s Close Election is Highlighting Old Divisions and Creating New Ones

By Erika Quinteros

Pedro Castillo has defeated Keiko Fujimori by 44,058 votes. That doesn’t mean the electoral battle is over.

With 100% of Peru’s votes counted, the country has a new president-elect. But will Pedro Castillo have a chance to govern?

On June 6th, Peruvians went to the polls to elect a president in a runoff election between right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori and left-wing contender Pedro Castillo. The night of the elections, the pollster Ipsos gave the first quick count – a method that consists of counting a representative sample of the country’s votes in the presence of the electoral authorities – which showed Castillo ahead with 50.2% of the votes.

Fujimori was relying on the votes of Peruvians overseas (PEX) to flip the count, but as the day went by, it became clear that while the PEX had largely backed Fujimori, they didn’t turn out to vote massively. That same day, she alleged systematic fraud led by Free Peru, Castillo’s party. She and her team presented a few cases that they argued represented irregularities and called on citizens to denounce any similar experiences publicly. Because of that, the National Election Jury opened its hearings to the public so that every Peruvian and the world could witness the review process and final verdict of each disputed vote.

On June 15th, this process was finally completed, and the final verdict nearly matched the initial Ipsos count: Castillo secured 50.1% of the vote. But Fujimori seems intent to keep fighting Castillo’s elections, and a number of politicians seem intent on supporting her efforts. The fight is shaking up Peru’s political divisions.

Fujimorismo vs Anti-fujimorismo

Fujimorismo has been an important force in Peruvian politics for the last three decades, dating back to former dictator Alberto Fujimori, Keiko’s father, who ruled Peru throughout the 1990s under neoliberal economic policies and a socially conservative agenda and is currently serving a prison sentence for his human rights abuses. For fujimoristas, the ideology also means a strong opposition to left-leaning ideas and the protection of economic growth based on the 1992 Constitution.

Anti-fujimorismo, on the other hand, started as a reaction against Alberto Fujimori’s 1992 self-coup in which he unconstitutionally shut down Peru’s Congress. Since then, the movement has gotten stronger, bringing people from across the political spectrum together against a political structure that has systematically persecuted, tortured, disappeared, and murdered political opponents, coopted and weakened institutions, and controlled the media. The movement was vocal in opposing Keiko Fujimori’s previous failed presidential campaigns in 2011 and 2016.

Over time, fujimorismo has been losing support: in the 2016 parliamentary election, Fujimori’s party got 26% of the general votes, which gave it just over 70 seats out of a total of 130. But the way this parliamentary majority abused its power hurt the party’s popularity, as did the criminal prosecution into Fujimori’s alleged money laundering, and in the 2020 parliamentary elections, fujimoristas only earned 15 seats with 7% of the votes. In the highly fragmented first round of the 2021 presidential elections, Fujimori passed to runoff with only 13.4%. But the perceived risk posed by a hard-left candidate pushed some formerly staunch anti-fujimorista figures, like novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and former prime minister Pedro Cateriano, to vocally back Fujimori in the run-off. 

Much of Peruvian politics, or anti-politics, are based on anti-fujimorismo and the second round between Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo was not an exception. The campaign was tense, with Fujimori’s allies frequently accusing Castillo’s supporters of being communists and terrorists.

The rise of a new right

Fujimori’s behavior since the election has only made the situation more difficult. On June 9th, she gave a press conference to announce that her party was presenting a request to cancel about 200,000 possible votes to the National Jury of Elections, alleging signature forgery, falsification of results by the citizens tasked with working the polls, incorrect vote tallies, missing information, and members of the same family working at the same poll location. 

It is important to clarify that most of these disputed votes were from poor rural areas in Peru, just like how in the United States, Donald Trump tried to exclude black voters in the last presidential elections. And just like how the evidence of fraud promised by Trump never materialized, it was just a matter of time until Fujimori’s accusations started to fall apart. The allegations were shown publicly to be false; for example, it was shown that poll workers were not family members and that the signatures were not forged. 

Even as Fujimori’s efforts have fizzled out in the electoral court, they have ignited the most reactionary sectors of Peruvian society. Street demonstrations and right-wing media have expressed opposition to Castillo not only for his political and economic views, but also based on a racist and classist discourse. Keiko’s second round campaign was based on fighting communist ideas, ideas which Keiko argued represent violence and hate. But her allies and supporters have gone further, calling for the murder of their political opponents, openly urging military coups, and giving the Nazi salute at demonstrations

Keiko Fujimori is not only lengthening the electoral process and interrupting the peaceful transfer of power, but also is fueling a hateful sentiment among Peruvians. 

These are not normal times, and what is at stake is greater than a presidency. Peru already has the world’s highest death rate from Covid-19, and recently the Delta variant has been detected in the southern region of Arequipa. Despite the efforts of the current interim president Francisco Sagasti to accelerate the vaccination process, many Peruvians under 60 are still waiting in line. 

Keiko Fujimori has gone from being the daughter of Alberto to a real threat to Peruvian democracy and lives. She has lost for the third time and will have to face justice for money laundering. Rather than face justice, however, she has started a crusade to judicialize the electoral process and nullify the vote. Fujimori and her supporters seem willing to take ever more extreme steps to  prevent Pedro Castillo from swearing in as a president on July 28. If she succeeds, it will be at the cost of Peru’s democracy.

Image: Flickr