The building’s elevator is directly connected to the living room of the apartment. Lima’s smog-filled skies can be seen through a large window. Waiting in the room, dressed in a white chiffon blouse and a dark, sleeveless vest with flower-patterned jeans, is Keiko Fujimori, the candidate of the party Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) for president of Peru. During the presidential election campaign, the politician has displayed one of her greatest strengths, that of bringing together the country’s elites, who in turn have backed her to the hilt to govern Peru for the next five years. But she has also let some of her weaknesses and contradictions show.
Fujimori, 46, who was briefly jailed after being accused of money laundering and criminal association in connection to the wide-ranging Odebrecht political bribery scandal, had promised to stamp out corruption. On an altar flanked by child-sized statues of Catholic figures, rests the bible she read when she was in prison. “Whatever the outcome, I will respect the will of the people,” she said before the country went to the polls. Two weeks later, Fujimori has not acknowledged the narrow victory of her rival in the presidential run-off, the leftist leader of the Perú Libre (Free Peru) party, Pedro Castillo. Fujimori insists that if she is in power, the stability of Peru’s faltering democracy would be shored up. In a wooden frame is a black and white photograph of her as a child with her mother, her two younger brothers and a man in a suit wearing horn-rimmed glasses: her father, Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s last autocrat.
The decision of Fujimori and her party to seek the annulment of 200,000 votes cast in some of the country’s poorest areas, where Castillo won huge support, has delayed the proclamation of a winner in the presidential contest by two weeks. According to the official count, Castillo won by a little over 40,000 votes. The wait has further strained social divisions after a high-intensity campaign that has divided the country. Fujimori and her allies say they are convinced that fraudulent activity altered the final result, despite the pertinent institutions and international observers stating they have seen nothing to suggest that is the case. Fujimori has the finest law firms in Lima behind her, and these have been filing various challenges. Up to now, all of them have been rejected. Associations formed by ex-military personnel have called for a coup to be staged to prevent Castillo from coming to power. For this sector of the political right, the leftist politician represents a fierce and outdated mode of communism.
It remains to be seen if Fujimori will eventually keep her word and accept the outcome of the vote, or if she will seek another path. “I will accept the results that the National Elections Jury decides,” she says, in reference to the country’s electoral board, seated on a three-piece couch. However, she adds, perhaps not enough is being done to find out “the truth.” Her election team had three days after the day of the vote, June 6, to file the nullification appeals, but the majority of them were submitted after that deadline. That has provoked a legal debate – a common occurrence in Peru – as to whether these should now be considered. “We ask the Jury not to offer excuses about the matter of deadlines, what we ask is that it seeks to discover the truth. If there were a willingness to find out the truth…” Fujimori continues.
— Do you believe there is no willingness?
— I’m not going to say anything until I have heard the final decision.
— On June 6 you said: “From here on, I can say that whatever the outcome I will respect the will of the people, as should be the case.”
— Of course. And I stand by that.
— Whatever the outcome?
Fujimori’s face darkens when the opinions of some of the country’s leading experts are read out to her. Alfredo Torres, president of pollster Ipsos Perú: “We have not found any indication of systemic fraud in the database.” The Ombudsman office: “We categorically affirm that no attempt has been made to tamper with the will of the people.” A report by the Organization of American States (OAS): “The mission has not detected serious irregularities.”
Fujimori, who is running in her third consecutive presidential election, says that she is not questioning the system as a whole, but 800 polling stations in which she claims that irregularities have been detected, such as several members of the same family being in charge of a voting station, which is prohibited by law. Her party has published the names and surnames of the citizens in question. These individuals have denied the accusations and said that the issue is easily explained by a common fact in Peru’s rural areas: many people share the same surname.
During the campaign, Fujimori allied herself with traditional enemies of her party such as Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa and his family, who publicly backed her candidacy. Rural primary school teacher Castillo, with his rhetoric against the elites and the free market – which he has now moderated and in some cases rectified – represented for them a leap into the void. Both candidates, in the face of doubts among voters as to how they would position themselves once installed in the presidential seat, made democratic promises and concessions. Fujimori asked for forgiveness from ministers she had ejected using her majority in Congress during the last legislature. It appeared that her attitude toward this new political process would be different. However, is suggesting her opponent has been engaged in fraudulent activity not adding to the instability she sought to address?
— On the contrary, I have acknowledged that if I made a mistake in the last elections it was that I didn’t ask for a recount [Fujimori lost by a similar margin against former prime minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and has always believed fraud was involved]. Today I am asking that they review certain polling stations. This kind of analysis will result in all Peruvians better accepting the outcome. With the next five years in mind, I think this will be much better and will strengthen democracy.
In a press conference, Fujimori appeared alongside Miguel Torres, one of her spokespeople. The prosecutor in charge of her case asked that Fujimori be returned to prison for violating the terms of her probation. In theory, she is not allowed contact with Torres, who has also been implicated. On June 21, there will be a hearing to study the prosecutor’s petition. “I have always placed myself at the disposition of the justice system and that’s why I have been in prison three times. The reasoning behind this fourth request for remand is absurd. We have been working for many months [with Torres] and this request was filed on the same day as we presented the annulment appeals,” she says. Torres is at the back of the room as she speaks, distracted by his cellphone.
Fujimori received a lot of votes. A good number of these came from the opposition to Castillo (neither candidate won more than 30% of the vote in the first round), from urban areas and the coast. But her candidacy was met with utter rejection in rural areas and in the south of the country, where historical anti-Fujimori sentiment is practically a religion.
“It could also be that in some cases that is also in reference to me. But as in any democracy, [I will try to win them over] with a lot of tolerance and respect, beyond their position and their ideology, so that they feel they are part of a state, a state that has failed over deaths from Covid,” she says. By population ratio, Peru has the most deaths in the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 180,000 fatalities.
Fujimori has not changed some of her more radical stances during her party’s journey toward a more central political ground in a bid to attract voters who may feel threatened by Castillo.
— Our position in defense of life and the family is very strong.
— And by that you mean…
— We are against abortion and gay marriage.
Fujimori has though shifted her opinion over the issue of a pardon for her father. She was installed as First Lady of Peru (1994-2000) after the separation of her parents, when she was just 18 years old. In 2011, she said she would support pardoning handing her father, who is serving a 25-year-sentence for crimes again humanity and corruption. In 2016, she said she would not, that she respected the sentence handed to Alberto Fujimori for two massacres that took place during his 1990-2000 rule as president. Now, she has once again said she would grant him a pardon. Does she maintain that position? “Yes.”
Vargas Llosa categorically asked that Vladimiro Montesinos, Alberto Fujimori’s right-hand man who is in jail on similar charges, not be granted the same treatment.
Now that the presidential campaign is over, and with it with the machinery of propaganda, does Fujimori still feel that Castillo represents a danger to democracy? “I think that his ideals and his proposals are damaging to our democracy; he has very radical viewpoints.”
The rattling of sabers has returned to Peru, a country that until the 1980s had had more military governments than civilian ones. Reservist officers have issued proclamations about a coup, which the Ministry of Defense has spoken out against. Even so, the smell of brimstone lingers in the air. “I believe that we should all remain calm,” says Fujimori. “I have nothing to do with them and I think that at this time what is best is for me to maintain my cautious approach.”
In the last three years, Fujimori has competed in two Ironman triathlons (a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on a bicycle and a 26-mile marathon). She brings that steely will to her political career.
— Is this the last time you will run in the presidential elections?
— I’m not going to answer that question. They will say that this lady has thrown in the towel. No, we will wait for the results. When we have them, I’ll call you and I’ll answer that question.
English version by Rob Train.