By Fernando Gimeno
Lima, Jun 1 (EFE).- From wealthy business owners fearful of “communism” and “terrorism,” to people nostalgic for the “mano dura” (iron fist) strategy of her father, to proponents of a continuation of the country’s neoliberal model to traditional conservatives who view her as the lesser of two evils, a diverse yet numerous hodgepodge of voters are coming together in support of Keiko Fujimori ahead of Peru’s June 6 runoff election.
A two-time runner-up in the second round of voting, the right-wing former first lady and lawmaker and daughter and political heiress of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori is gaining ground in her quest to become Peru’s first female head of state.
A whopping 72 percent of Peruvian voters said at the start of the electoral process that they would never cast a ballot for Keiko, who is facing election money-laundering charges that a prosecutor says merits a 30-year prison sentence.
But just days before she faces off against leftist rival Pedro Castillo, an erstwhile rural primary school teacher who won the first round with just 19 percent of the vote, that figure has fallen to just 45 percent.
Castillo’s so-called “anti-vote” stands at 41 percent.
Large business leaders lined up behind Fujimori in the previous two presidential elections and their support is even more pronounced on this occasion due to fears of communism and terrorism that are reflected in multi-million-dollar, anti-Castillo ad campaigns.
“We’ve done it. We’re going to get past this threat,” a Lima business owner told Efe anonymously after the latest polls showed a virtual deadlock between the two candidates a week before the runoff.
Even in her lowest political ebb Keiko has maintained a loyal group of supporters nostalgic for the iron-fist policies of her father, whom they regard at the greatest president in recent Peruvian history for his success in permanently debilitating the Shining Path guerrilla insurgency during his 1990-2000 rule and implementing reforms that ended hyperinflation.
She has promised those supporters (between 8 percent and 10 percent of Peruvians) that she will pardon her father, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for sanctioning the use of military death squads as part of his government’s effort to crush the rebels.
Among those ultra-loyal voters is Julian Angeles, who told Efe that “many decades will have to pass before Fujimori’s contribution can be seen in all of its magnitude.”
“I think he made the difference. We had inflation at astronomical levels, terrorism and a conflict with Ecuador. I’ve lived through terrorism and I remember that with Fujimori that was put down. Regrettably, we’re now in a situation with the same overtones and it terrifies me,” Angeles said.
A sizable number of people, however, plan to vote only reluctantly for Fujimori, including many who supported her in the 2016 election but have soured on her due to her party’s obstructionism when it held an absolute majority in Congress.
Those voters opted for other right-wing options in the first round but now are back in the Fujimori camp because of their total rejection of Castillo.
One of these people is Diego Valdes, a young Peruvian who told Efe he had grown very critical of Fujimori but now sees her as the last line of defense against communism.
In a similar vein, free-market defenders like Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, who lost to Alberto Fujimori in the 1990 presidential election and has been a staunch opponent of Fujimorism for decades, also are throwing their weight behind Keiko.
The big unknown is whether that support will be enough to defeat Castillo, who is backed by large numbers of low-income voters who feel that Peru’s market-friendly policies and steady economic growth prior to the pandemic did not benefit them and only exacerbated high levels of inequality. EFE