Fujimori scion faces another tight race for Peru's presidency

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 05, 2016 1:09 AM

By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) - Keiko Fujimori aims to steer the right-wing populist movement she inherited from her disgraced father back into power in a run-off election for Peru's presidency on Sunday, but the latest polls suggest she could suffer another narrow loss.

Her lead over rival Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, has melted away in recent days, evoking memories of her close defeat to outgoing President Ollanta Humala in 2011.

The 41-year-old Fujimori has spent the last five years doubling down on efforts to broaden her appeal beyond loyalists to her father, Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for graft and human rights abuses.

She kicked his staunchest defenders off her party's congressional ticket and has stepped up the movement's presence in provinces she lost to left-leaning Humala in 2011. But with new allies mired in fresh scandals, some supporters are having second thoughts.

"I just can't believe her anymore with everything that's been in the news lately," said Gloria Diaz, a 24-year-old stylist who voted for Fujimori in the first-round election.

While both candidates are fiscal conservatives who would maintain the free-market model for the resource-rich Andean economy, their styles and approaches differ wildly.

The election pits the Fujimori family's brand of conservative populism against Kuczynski's elite background and stiff technocratic style that has curbed his appeal in poor provinces and working-class districts.

A former investment banker, Kuczynski endorsed Fujimori in 2011 before becoming the unlikely leader of the country's anti-Fujimori movement when he scraped together a second-place win in April's first-round election.

In opinion polls by Ipsos and GfK taken on Saturday, Kuczynski pulled slightly ahead of Fujimori though the two remained in a statistical dead-heat.

SCANDALS SURFACE

The scandals swirling in the Fujimori camp appear to have taken their toll.

A senior aide to Fujimori stepped down last month after media reports linked him to money laundering and drug trafficking. Local journalists later accused her running mate of feeding them a tampered audio recording to discredit a source at the center of the reports, reminding many Peruvians of the days when her father's government bribed tabloids to sway public opinion in his favor.

Fujimori has defended her associates and all three have denied wrongdoing. She says her party has been the victim of a smear campaign ahead of Peru's fourth democratic election since her father's authoritarian government collapsed in 2000.

"Democracy is not at risk," Fujimori told local broadcaster RPP on Friday as she refuted growing attacks from Kuczynski.

Fujimori has waged a more energetic campaign than her rival, whirling out regional dances in far-flung villages where she has promised to deliver tractors and portrayed her rival as out-of-touch with struggling Peruvians.

She has responded to the top voter concern, crime, with a hard-line stance that includes support for the death penalty and promises to lock up the most dangerous criminals in five new prisons she would have built above 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) in the Andes.

"That's where we'll send the hit men, the rapists, the kidnappers! Very far from here!" she said to cheers at her last campaign rally that drew tens of thousands of supporters.

'SHE'S READY'

Kuczynski has portrayed himself as honest and experienced enough to make good on promises to jump-start sluggish economic growth.

At his closing campaign rally, he recalled becoming the country's first finance minister after Alberto Fujimori fled Peru with an estimated $6 billion in funds missing from public coffers.

"When I opened the treasury, it was empty!" Kuczynski said at his closing campaign event. "Bit by bit, in two to three years, we had turned things around. Peru started to grow."

If he wins, Kuczynski would have to reckon with a solid majority of Fujimori's party in Congress and a leftist alliance that has promised not to align with either of them.

If recent history is any guide, Fujimori has a good chance of eking out a win. Every president since 2000 has first faced defeat in a run-off race in the previous election.

"She's ready, and deserves the chance to clear her father's name," said Santiago Celez, a 70-year-old taxi driver. "Not by pardoning him as some think but by simply doing things right."

(Additional reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Mary Milliken)