Peru: Conservative Within 3 Points of Communist Frontrunner in Presidential Race

Peruvian presidential candidate for the April 10 general election, Keiko Fujimori leader of the Fuerza Popular Party, applauds during a campaign rally in Lima, on February 9, 2016. Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned Peruvian former President Alberto Fujimori, consistently leads the polls. AFP PHOTO/CRIS BOURONCLE / AFP / CRIS BOURONCLE (Photo …
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images

Conservative candidate Keiko Fujimori has attracted a surge of support, bringing her within three points of frontrunner Marxist Pedro Castillo in Peru’s presidential race, a poll published Monday revealed.

Fujimori, a three-time presidential candidate and former first lady alongside father Alberto Fujimori, barely snuck into the June 6 run-off election with a narrow defeat of third-place candidate Hernando de Soto in April. In Peru, any number of presidential candidates can run against each other in a first round, but if no candidate receives over 51 percent of the vote, the top two candidates must face each other in a run-off race.

An April 25 poll by the Institute for Peruvian Studies (IEP) showed Castillo dominating Fujimori with a commanding 41.5 percent of the vote, compared to Fujimori’s 21.5 percent. The poll showed an extremely high number of undecided voters, however, which appear to currently be breaking for Fujimori.

A poll published Tuesday by the firm CPI, commissioned by Radio Programas del Perú (RPP), showed Fujimori receiving about 32 percent support from the general public. Castillo had dropped to 34.2 percent, meaning Castillo’s lead fell within the poll’s margin of error. Another 15 percent of Peruvians said they were undecided voters, while 18 percent said they were committed to lodging a blank vote, or a rejection of both candidates.

The CPI poll is the most favorable recent poll for Fujimori. On Friday, another firm, Datum published a survey showing Castillo’s support at 41 percent and Fujimori’s at 36 percent. A third poll by IEP published Sunday showed Castillo at 36.2 percent, to Fujimori’s 30 percent. All three polls documented an increase in support from the last similar study taken by each for Fujimori.

Fujimori, head of the Popular Force party, is a well-known personality in Peruvian politics. Her father, Alberto Fujimori, ran the country from 1990 to 2000. The elder Fujimori’s defining legacy has been the eradication of Shining Path, a communist terrorist organization that had caused mayhem in the Peruvian countryside for over a decade. Leftists have since accused him of torturing political dissidents and now, at 82 years old, Fujimori is serving a 25-year prison sentence for a variety of alleged human rights and corruption crimes. Keiko Fujimori has implied that she would pardon her father as president so that he may live out the rest of his life in peace.

Keiko Fujimori served as Alberto’s first lady following his divorce from wife Susana Higuchi, who later ran for president against him while their daughter fulfilled the first lady role. Keiko Fujimori began her term as first lady at age 19. As head of Popular Force, she has adopted many hardline conservative positions similar to her father’s, prompting concern from the Peruvian left that she is insufficiently committed to democracy.

The younger Fujimori, now a member of the Peruvian Congress and party leader, was arrested in 2018 for allegedly taking bribes from corrupt Brazilian contracting firm Odebrecht. Her case continues in process at press time.

Given her decades in the political spotlight and the many controversies surrounding her family — including a particularly acrimonious political clash with brother and former lawmaker Kenji Fujimori that resulted in the ouster of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in 2019 — Keiko Fujimori receives particularly high unfavorability ratings currently. Disapproval of her has risen since her last presidential run against Kuczynski, where she was considered the frontrunner.

Fujimori’s rise in the polls appears to be a product of the public getting more familiar with Castillo, a professor who shocked the country by winning the first round of elections after polling at a meager three percent. Castillo is a member of a Marxist party known as “Free Peru” whose members have openly expressed support for communists like Fidel Castro and Vladimir Lenin. Peru’s El Comercio uncovered part of Free Peru’s policy platform that openly praised Lenin.

“Socialism does not advocate for freedom of the press, but for a press committed to education and the cohesion of the people,” the platform read. “[Vladimir] Lenin had a great point when he said that true freedom of the press is only possible when it is liberated from the yoke of capitalism. Fidel [Castro] also said: ‘…mass media are in the hands of those who threaten human survival with their immense economic, technological, and military resources.”

Peru Libre regularly uses mid-20th century communist iconography in its events and graphic art. Following Castillo’s first-round win, running mate Dina Boluarte threatened that, should her ticket win, Lima’s middle class would “cease to exist.” Unlike many nations, Peru’s biggest cities tend to be more conservative and its rural areas more Marxist; Fujimori maintains a commanding lead in Lima, according to the IEP poll.

Castillo has also faced accusations of ties to what remains of the Shining Path terrorist group, which he denies.

Castillo’s radical communist associations have redirected attention away from the polarizing Fujimori and made the presidential race into more of a referendum on Cuban-style communism. A crowd at one campaign event in April booed Castillo, shouting, “we are not communists! Get a job, loafer! State moocher!”

In response, Castillo has been cornered into insisting repeatedly, “we aren’t communists,” referring to his party, but without clarifying the praise for Lenin and Castro in the party’s official platform. Castillo has also tried to return attention to Fujimori with personal insults against her family. On Tuesday, Castillo challenged Fujimori to a debate on the condition that “I bring my parents, she brings hers,” in an attempt to relitigate Alberto Fujimori’s legacy.

Castillo’s repeated refusal to debate Fujimori, as well as Castillo’s refusal to name who he would appoint in his cabinet. Conservatives and the Fujimori campaign have made the case that he has not done so for fear that the Peruvian public would respond negatively to how extremist his picks would be, given those who surround him in the Free Peru party. The founder of Free Peru, former governor Vladimir Cerrón, is a Leninist and the brains behind the controversial party platform. Cerrón has made numerous public appearances indicating that he is a major player in the Castillo campaign, even as Castillo has attempted to assert himself as the only boss in a hypothetical Castillo presidency.

“There is a strong weight on the figure of Mr. Cerrón. It is a mistake on Pedro Castillo’s part not to distance himself from Cerrón and an error by Cerrón himself to not understand that people don’t want him participating in the campaign,” political scientist Paula Távara told RPP.

Hernán Chaparro, another political analyst, noted to RPP that Cerrón, unfortunately for Castillo, “very evidently has an affinity for being the protagonist. I think he does a lot of harm.”

Castillo told journalists on Monday that he was not paying too much attention to the polls.

“That doesn’t bother me, I’m not going to give it any importance and I also don’t care to focus on these polls,” Catillo said.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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