Peru’s Very Not Normal Election

On Sunday Peruvians went to the polls to elect a new President. Two conservative candidates – daughter of a former president Keiko Fujimori and World Bank economist Pedro Kuczynski – are now in a run-off, having gained 39.5% and 21.6% respectively. Leftist  Veronika Mendoza trailed with 18.5%.

But what looks like a normal election – a swing to the right after a period of left-wing rule – is also exposing the long shadow cast on Peru by jailed former President Alberto Fujimori.

Ghosts, Haunt

Candidate Keiko Fujimori’s father is Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru from 1990 to 2000, who led a dirty war against Maoist rebel group Shining Path. Claiming to wish to address serious social and economic issues, rebels in Shining Path waged a bloody guerrilla war in which over 60,000 died. Indigenous peasants bore the brunt of violence in attacks like the Lucanamarca massacre. Fujimori’s government responded by legalizing and arming local vigilante groups. Security forces committed numerous human rights violations. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that Shining Path were responsible for 46% of deaths and the government for around one third.

On Sunday 5 April 1992 Fujimori ordered a tank to drive to Congress to shut it down in the wake of growing political instability. Protesting Senators were attacked with tear gas and opposition members arrested. A corruption scandal in 2000 finally ended Fujimori’s decade in power when he fled to Japan.

Alberto Fujimori, on trial in 2008
Alberto Fujimori, on trial in 2008

In 2009 Fujimori was found guilty of authorizing death squads, kidnappings, and for ordering the military to shut Congress. His conviction was the first time a democratically elected Latin American leader was tried and convicted in his own country. The ruling was hailed as a victory against impunity by human rights groups. In 2015 he was convicted again, this time of corruption, and is currently serving a 25-year jail sentence.

The Shining Path war and actions of Alberto Fujimori left deep fractures in Peruvian society, and the Fujimori name remains divisive. Almost half of Peruvians say they would never vote for a candidate associated with Alberto Fujimori. Last week protestors took to the streets warning that Keiko Fujimori’s election would bring a return to authoritarian rule. But others view him as a national hero who saved Peru from terrorism and violence.  And still others laud his success in bringing economic stability following threats of hyperinflation.

In the past Keiko Fujimori refused to distance herself from her father’s legacy, and continues to stick by her father’s record in bringing stability to the country. In 2011 she said she would pardon her father if made President, but she has since changed her stance. Despite the obvious echoes of her father’s regime, her success in the polls show that the name Fujimori still has political traction.

The discourse around the elections highlights how division can resurface and threaten peace-building generations after conflict has been declared over. In Peru an apparently clear-cut case of political, legal and moral judgement of Fujimori’s actions is not being born out in the post-conflict political and social discourse. Questions about whether state-led human rights violations can be justified in the heat of conflict appear to remain open for debate. Meanwhile, the war limps on. On Saturday, Shining Path rebels killed eight soldiers and two civilians traveling to provide election security in remote Ayacucho.