Peru Runoff: Coup Leader vs. Convict's Daughter

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Pilar Olivares / Reuters; Mariana Bazo / Reuters

Peru's presidential candidates Ollanta Humala (R) and Keiko Fujimori pose for photographers after voting in Lima, April 10, 2011.

Left-wing presidential candidate Ollanta Humala won a clear victory in Peru's presidential balloting on Sunday, but he fell far short of the votes needed to avoid a runoff in two months. Humala, 48, a retired Army officer, placed first in the voting, winning nearly 30% of the vote with almost 80% of the ballots counted. Candidates need at least half the votes to win outright, so Humala will be heading for a runoff on June 5 against Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori.

Fujimori finished seven points behind Humala and, while the votes are being tabulated, is still in a race for second place with Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former finance minister and World Bank executive. But most pundits predict that he will not overcome a three-point deficit to beat her. Kuczynski basically agreed, telling reporters Monday morning that the gap might be too large to overcome.

The Humala-Fujimori runoff sets up a second-round scenario that local and international analysts say could have a polarizing effect on this Andean country. While Humala and Fujimori placed first and second in the balloting, they also are the two candidates that a majority of voters polled say they would never vote for. "This is going to be a complicated runoff," says Jo-Marie Burt, a political science professor at Virginia's George Mason University and author of a book on political violence in Peru. "The campaign is likely to focus on the reasons behind the high negative numbers of each candidate."

Humala, who doubled his poll numbers throughout March to snatch victory, has been bashed by the local media and business groups for his original economic plan, which calls for vastly increasing the role of the state and rewriting Peru's constitution. By the end of his campaign, those proposals had become decidedly business-friendly — a shift that critics described as insincere and outright pandering. Humala nevertheless said on election night that he would change whatever necessary in his government plan to build consensus with other parties.

Also haunting the race is Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who may have played a decisive role in helping Humala lose his first presidential bid in 2006. Humala came in first in 2006, but, in the run-off, lost to second-place finisher Alan Garcia. (Garcia is constitutionally barred from seeking a consecutive five-year term this year. Back in 2006, Chávez weighed in on Humala's behalf, which Garcia aptly used to his own advantage. While the Venezuelan has largely stayed out of this year's race, his name could be still heard as voters stood in line to cast ballots on Sunday. "Humala is a puppet of Chávez. He wants to takes us down the same road," said Miguel Quispe, 21, a first-time voter in presidential elections. Quispe voted for Kuczynski, saying he represented the middle ground between Humala and Fujimori.

Fujimori's high negatives, according to voters, come from her age, 35, and her family's history. She is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who was President from 1990 to 2000. He is remembered for defeating inflation and terrorism, as well as a massive number of social programs, but also for heading what was undoubtedly the most corrupt government in Peru's modern history. He is currently behind bars, sentenced in April 2009 to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges on corruption. Many of his closest associates are either in prison or recently paroled. Those who did not go to jail are actively part of this daughter's campaign. Says Burt, "The results are terrible for Peruvian democracy, because Fujimori represents in a real way a return to the past, a past marked by massive political and economic corruption, human rights abuses and a complete disregard for democratic institutions."

Fujimori has acknowledged that corruption is anegative legacy of her father's regime andhas pledged to run a transparent administration based on the positive things he did while in power. In a sympolic response to critics, her mother Susana Higuchi, who divorced the President in a rancorous procedure, was on stage with her daughter on election night as results came in. Higuchi, who was a member of the legislature through 2006, had accused her ex-husband of corruption long before the scandals that brought him down surfaced.

Humala also has some troubling history that have never been fully explained, says Burt. He led a brief, quirky coup against Fujimori in late 2000 from a remote military base in the southern highlands. He was quickly apprehended. That failed coup began the same day of the escape of Fujimori's intelligence strongman, Vladimiro Montesinos, who left the country on a yacht to avoid arrest on corruption charges. The coincidence between the coup attempt and Montensinos flights have been dredged up often, with Humala dening that there was any relationship between the two. (Montesinos was arrested in Venezuela in June 2001 and is serving lengthy prison sentences.)

Critics say that Humala also has not fully responded to allegations of human rights abuses committed by the troops he led during the state's war against terrorism in the 1980s and early 1990s — claims he declares are false. He has been investigated several times and no compelling evidence of wrongdoing has been established.

Then there is the dysfunctional Humala family. One brother, Antauro, in prison for leading his own bizarre coup attempt in 2005 against then-President Alejandro Toledo, claims he received the go-ahead for the uprising from Ollanta. The presidential candidate notonly denies it but points out that, at the time, he was Peru's military attaché in South Korea and found out about the coup attempt on the radio. Another brother, Ulises, who also ran for president in 2006, told the daily Correo that if Ollanta wins he will be harder get rid of than Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. Humala responded that some comments do not merit a response.

While voters polled after casting their ballots cited the candidates' negatives, they were focused more on what Humala and Fujimori would do to address their major concerns: corruption, employment and security. The electorate, including young voters who opted for Kuczynski, expressed frustration that 10 years of economic growth was not reaching the vast majority of the population. Poverty rates in Peru have declined by nearly 20 points since 2000, but being above the poverty line only requires earning $100 a month. Tony Palomino, who runs a drop-in center for senior citizens in a low-income district in Lima, says people want to see real progress in wages and job security and not only hear that Peru is the best economy in the region or will be a first world country in 10 years. Says Palomino: "There are families that have been living off of soup kitchens and other assistance programs for 20 years and usually the mother and father both work. This has to stop. There need to be changes that allow for concrete improvement."

Humala was the only major candidate to run against the current economic model, though Fujimori acknowledge that growth was not tricking down and changes were needed. Humala received the highest marks in opinion polls from those who thought Peru needed to improve security, which is the number one issue for voters in Lima, the capital with nearly one-third the country's voters.

The political alliances that will be built between now and June 5 will be crucial, but also represent potential pitfalls for the candidates. Coletta Youngers, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), says Fujimori runs a greater risk of alienating her base if the more conservative candidates in the race, such as Kuczynski, were to rally around her. "Fujimori's support is urban poor and in rural areas. If the right were to rally around her it could backfire and put Humala in a much better position."