Over the past few months, multiple hopefuls have emerged, surged and then collapsed in the race to become Peru’s next president. Former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda, the first to declare his candidacy, led early polls, but finished a distant fifth place in Sunday’s vote. Former President Alejandro Toledo, whose support hovered around 30 percent in many polls, was expected to coast into the second-round vote. Instead, he finished in fourth place. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a less-than-well-known technocrat, was polling at five percent only a month before the election, but he surged in recent weeks with strong support from businesses and young voters and finished a strong third place on Sunday. Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori—daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori—had difficulties moving beyond her father’s traditional support base (around 20 percent of the electorate), but with the moderate vote split between three candidates this was enough to pass on to the second round. Two-time presidential candidate Ollanta Humala tapped into many Peruvians’ dissatisfaction with the lopsided distribution of wealth that has accompanied the rapid growth of recent years, and surged from 10 percent to 30 percent support in only a few weeks.
Now Humala will face Fujimori in the June 5 runoff.
Results by the Numbers
The Peruvian civil society group Transparencia-Perú conducted an election-day observation and quick count predicting the following final results (with a 1.5 percent margin of error):
Ollanta Humala (Gana Perú) 31.3 percent
Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011) 23.2 percent
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Alianza por el Gran Cambio) 18.7 percent
Alejandro Toledo (Perú Posible) 15.9 percent
Luis Castañeda (Alianza Solidaridad Nacional) 10.0 percent
Both Transparencia-Perú and the Organization of American States (OAS) election-monitoring delegation reported very few irregularities. Electoral authorities also seem to have addressed the technical problems that delayed the results of last year’s Lima mayoral election.
These results also reflect recent polling trends that showed Humala with a clear advantage over the other candidates. Keiko Fujimori maintained her core support of around 20 percent. And moderate voters did, in fact, split their votes between the three other candidates, who all had similar campaign platforms and were unable to join forces. Notably, Humala and Fujimori have the highest voter disapproval rates at around 40 percent each. Peruvian writer and Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa famously quipped that this scenario “would be a choice between AIDS and cancer.”
Humala and Fujimori’s commitment to democratic principles remain largely in question and they represent the opposite extremes of Peru’s political spectrum. According to many observers, the fragmentation, overall weakness and personality-driven nature of Peru’s party system helps explain the split of moderate votes.
The Candidates and Their Strengths
Humala captured rural, Indigenous and low-income votes, winning in 15 of Peru’s 26 departments. He had an especially strong showing in the south. Unlike the other candidates, who vowed to adhere to the status quo in economic policy, Humala proposed to expand the state’s role in the economy, to renegotiate contracts with foreign extractive industries, to launch new social programs, and to revise the Peruvian constitution. This platform resonated among the poor, who have yet to benefit from high GDP growth. The boom has disproportionally benefited the urban, upper-middle class, as well as the more prosperous, export-oriented northern parts of the country. Multiple reports say that while poverty has decreased over the past five years, extreme poverty has remained largely stagnant. While not in the majority, this constituency voted for Humala.
Compared to 2006, Humala presented himself as a more moderate and astute candidate. He moved significantly to the center, and ran a more professional campaign. Unlike the last election, he sought to distance himself from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and questions from the media about his Brazilian campaign advisers helped portray him as more of a Brazilian Lula-type than Chávez. Many believe that despite these cosmetic changes, he remains true to his more radical past. There are many unknowns about Humala, and the alliances he builds over the next two months will shed light on a possible future Humala administration.
Keiko Fujimori campaigned on a platform of law and order and a continuation of her father’s social programs. As a congressional candidate in the 2006 legislative elections, she received more votes than any other candidate. She also acquired high name recognition when she served as a first lady during her father’s presidency. Her support has remained steady for months at 20 percent. Earlier in the campaign, she went on the record to say that if elected she would pardon her father, who is now in prison on charges of corruption and human rights violations. More recently, she has said she would let justice take its course, and suggested that he might be released though legal appeals. Throughout the campaign, she cautiously balanced her association with her father. It is unclear how important a role he may have played in her campaign, but her political team does consist of well-known Fujimori loyalists.
While a Fujimori administration would provide continuity to Peru’s economic model, many fear her stances on key democratic issues, including human rights, judicial independence, government transparency and the fight against corruption, and others. Previous polls suggested that Fujimori would beat Humala in a second round with wealthier voters flocking to her camp. While the business sector may be less threatened by Keiko than Humala, such predictions are not so simple.
Former President Toledo led the polls for 10 weeks before falling sharply to fourth place. He ran on a platform of continuity and reform: continuation of the economic policies of his first administration with adjustments to benefit the poorest Peruvians. According to analysts, his descent can be explained by a number of factors. First, Toledo focused overwhelmingly on current President Alan García, rather than the other contenders in the race. This worked at first—but the strategy eventually backfired. Second, he was unable to clearly communicate his “continuity with reform” platform, running an erratic and undisciplined campaign. He even had to retract numerous public comments that he contended were “misunderstood.” And he refused to take a drug test, which became an issue. Third, by confronting his one-time finance minister Mr. Kuczynski, he helped raise his own opponent’s profile. Finally, he failed to build support among young voters, who instead supported Mr. Kuczynski.
A lot can happen in the next two months. In 2006, Mr. Humala faced President García in the second round and lost by only four points. Former President Toledo and Mr. Kuczynski will play an important role in swaying moderate voters one way or the other. Peruvian analysts expect implicit or explicit alliances to unfold over the coming weeks. Rumors in Lima say that Humala is already reaching out to moderate left-leaning figures. Given Humala and Fujimori’s high voter disapproval levels, they will need to find support outside their traditional bases to win the second round. Mr. Kuczynski won in Lima and Callao, and both Humala and Fujimori have their eyes on these constituencies.
Voter absenteeism and null votes might be significantly higher in the second round as well. Peru has compulsory voting, and voter turnout usually averages 85 percent. But, since moderate voters—who are a majority—will not be represented in the ballot, many may choose to just stay home.
*Fabiola Córdova is a guest blogger for AQ Online, and a program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC.