Just as it was an interesting time to arrive in Argentina following the recent elections and change in government, we have arrived in Peru at an equally interesting and unpredictable time, as the country goes to the polls on 5 June in its second round of presidential elections.
Crossing the border with Chile and making our way up to Lima by bus, we were bombarded by election billboards on the sides of the Panamericana road. To the untrained eye, it was extremely overwhelming and difficult to make sense of, with a mirage of names, slogans and political parties, and after speaking to a number of Peruvian friends, it appears no less confusing for the local population. A friend of ours has the job of explaning to Peruvians the ins and outs of how to vote. He told us that in the first round, the elections for which were held on 10 April, there were over 20 candidates hoping to get through to the second round (although several were disqualified during the campaign). He added that this number is not at all unusual in Peru, where new political parties are constantly emerging, jostling for a chance to ´change´ the country. For the Peruvian people, who are legally obliged to vote or face a fine, it is no wonder they need someone to help them make sense of it all.
Out of the confusing collection of candidates, two emerged victorious and now go head-to-head in the second round. From a leftwing perspective, the situation is a desperate one. On 5 June, the Peruvian electorate have the choice between Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK – Pedro Pablo para el ´Kambio´), a 77 year old free-market neoliberal and former World Bank economist; and Keiko Fujimori, daughter and one time First Lady of the infamous Alberto Fujimori, who governed Peru as a dictatorship in the 90s, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds during the turbulent period of terrorism and is now in prison for human rights abuses and corruption.
Two left wing friends of ours from Lima described their intense dissappointment when the results of the first round were announced, and their desperation with the choice they now face. They were hopeful that Veronika Mendoza, a left wing candidate with Quechua roots and a passion for transforming Peruvian society, would make it to the second round. After seeing some of her campaign videos, when compared to the utter idiocies of songs and dances that other candidates released, I could see why they were so dissappointed when she didn´t make it; PPK beat her by an extremely close margin, conjuring up a nightmarish scenario where the Peruvian people would have to choose between a corrupt dictator´s daughter who would strip the country of its democracy and an extreme communist no better than the terrorist groups of the 80´s and 90´s. Unfortunately, his fear tactics worked.
Ruth was participating in a community project in Huancavelica, Peru´s poorest region, when the first presidencial TV debate was broadcast. Whilst at least attempting to discuss serious topics rather than dance in silly costumes like in their campaign videos, the debate was predictably vague and uninspiring. One thing is certain though – Keiko won it hands down. On the evening of the debate, 54% of viewers predicted that PPK would win it; immediately afterwards almost 80% stated that Keiko had been the stronger of the two. While PPK stumbled slowly over his vague policies and attempted to quote historical figures from books, Keiko threw blow after blow towards him, hammering home the fact that he had spent 8 days of the campaign trail in the United States instead of visiting practically every town and village in Peru, as she had. Indeed, Tio Raul, the hilarious yet humble 73 year old Ruth was staying with, said he was definitely voting for Keiko as ´she understands the problems of the people´. However, he also said that all Peruvian politicians betray their people once elected – the current president Ollanto Humalla pitched himself as a left wing candidate who would transform Peruvian society, and he has done no such thing. Equally, many of the issues and proposals discussed in the debate sounded great in theory, but with no solid policies to back them up, and the elite background of both candidates, each claim of tackling poverty and inequality seemed void of all meaning.
So all in all, there is a general sense of mistrust, disenchantment and bewilderment among most people we have spoken to regarding the upcoming elections. It seems likely that Keiko Fujimori will be the next president of Peru, but it is still all to play for – there has just been a huge nation wide anti-Keiko demonstration on 31 March, and many people I have spoken to will vote through gritted teeth for PPK to stop the dictator´s daughter taking office. Whatever the outcome, the political future of Peru looks gloomy to say the least, and I can only hope that the strong and passionate Peruvian people fight back against the country´s corrupt political elite and pave the way for a Peru that truly serves the many and not just the few.