Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Does Gender Matter in Peru’s Presidential Race?

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For several weeks now, Keiko Fujimori has been ahead in most of the major polls.  If she wins, she will be the first female president in Peru. While Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who ran against Keiko’s father in 1990 has said the choice between Ollanta Humala and Keiko is like choosing between AIDS and cancer, no one has asked what it would mean to have a female president in Peru.  At least some academic literature suggests there are differences between male and female heads of states.

Would Keiko Fujimori lead differently than a male counterpart?  Would Keiko’s policies better benefit women?

There is a wide body of literature around women and corruption.  Here, it has been suggested than women possess certain innate qualities that make them less corrupt than men.  Given this assumption, would Keiko be less corrupt than her male counterpart?  Keiko is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights abuses.  While many argue that children are not necessarily replicas of their parents, she has surrounded herself with her father’s old advisors and there have been reports that her father is leading her election campaign from prison. Her top campaign advisor is Jaime Yoshiyama, who helped rewrite Peru’s constitution after Alberto Fujimori shut down congress in 1992.

Moreover, since his faxed resignation from Japan in 2000, more than 1,500 people have been charged with corruption under Alberto Fujimori’s government. It is estimated that members of Alberto Fujimori’s administration stole $600 million. No other Peruvian government has looted the nation’s treasury on the scale of Alberto Fujimori’s government. Transparency International deemed Fujimori the seventh most corrupt leader in modern times. Some of this money has allegedly been used to fund Keiko’s studies and she has been under investigation for mishandling charitable donations.

But is this relevant to his daughter’s current campaign? Not necessarily. But, her campaign posters have pictures of her father and she has said that her father’s presidency was the “best government in the history of Peru.” Those who oppose Keiko fear that her rule could mean a return to arbitrary justice and authoritarian rule.  An early test of her stance on corruption will be whether she pardons her father, which she stated two years ago as the aim of her candidacy.  In this case, it looks like family ties are more important than gender, which means it cannot be assumed that her potential presidency would be influenced by her being female.

Other analyses on the role of women politicians suggest that female political leaders are more likely to incorporate gender issues into policymaking to promote women’s rights.  Keiko’s record is mixed. She has a strong history of social work, especially on issues related to children’s health, and is also a proponent of her father’s structural reforms including bringing electricity and water to poor communities.

However, since being elected to Congress in 2006, she has yet to show a deep commitment to women’s issues. She acknowledges being absent for 370 days, mostly due to maternity leave and to finishing her master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University. Of the six laws she sponsored in her five years in office, none were directly related to women’s issues. A campaign promise referred to as Progresa Mujer would give work to women, protect them from domestic violence and bring quality health care, but the specifics of how the program would work have not been declared.

Keiko Programa “Progresa Mujer” by fuerza2011

One particularly worrisome move is the decision to bring in Alejandro Aguinaga as one of her campaign advisers. Aguinaga was Fujimori’s health minister when the government was accused of forcing some 3,000 poor indigenous women to be sterilized. His involvement on her team calls into question whether she would truly be more pro-woman than her rival Ollanta Humala.

If woman are voting based on gender, it seems that this election is gender neutral. So time for Peruanas to choose another issue upon which to cast their vote.

*Sabrina Karim is a contributing blogger to AQ Online and is currently living in Lima, Peru as part of a Fulbright Fellowship.


Sabrina Karim was a 2010 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Peru, affiliated with Grupo de Análisis para Desarrollo (GRADE). She specializes in issues related to security, gender, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency.  She is currently a PhD candidate in political science at Emory University. 

Tags: 2011 Peru Elections
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