Neoliberal or Marxist? Polarized Peru faces a volatile future anyway

(The dissemination of voter surveys in Peru in the week leading up to the June 6 elections is prohibited by law)

LIMA, June 3 (Reuters) – Peru has had a turbulent year. The Andean nation has had three presidents since the end of 2020, has the world’s highest per capita death toll from COVID-19, and has seen its worst economic crash in three decades.

Voters in the copper-rich country now have the chance to set a new course in Sunday’s election – a polarized runoff between surprise socialist candidate Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, the free-market offshoot of a powerful political dynasty.

Whoever wins, the South American country is set for a volatile and uncertain road, analysts say.

Voters are almost evenly split between the two candidates, who offer very contrasting visions for the world number one. 2 copper producer and its 33 million inhabitants.

Castillo, whose Peru Free socialist party has been backed by support from the poorest rural areas, has a slim lead in the polls, ahead of conservative neoliberal Fujimori, popular in the capital Lima. Pollsters say the vote is too close to call.

The Congress vote in April saw a dozen parties winning seats, meaning there will be a fragmented legislature with no party holding a majority.

Giovanna Peñaflor, political analyst, said the glaring divisions meant the new government would be vulnerable to more volatility, regardless of who won.

“Instability will be the norm in the years to come, because we have weak institutions and because the government will lack legitimacy because things are so polarized,” she said.

“In theory, this election was supposed to end (instability), bring a government with some legitimacy to reform, but that won’t happen and the political struggle won’t stop.”

In a week in November last year, a president was impeached by Congress and another was forced to resign after fiery protests from young people angry at what they saw as a coup illegitimate which killed at least two people. Peru has since been ruled by interim president Francisco Sagasti. Uncertainty shook Peru’s once-stable markets.

During marches this week ahead of the vote, protest placards claimed Castillo would turn Peru into a “communist or Chavist” state, a reference to former left-wing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Castillo rejects the comparison.

Others blasted Fujimori for corruption charges she denies and criticized her as “authoritarian,” linking her to the conflicted presidency of her father Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. He is currently in prison for rights violations humans and corruption.

“It is because of the Fujimoris that we have a constitution with a neoliberal economic model that benefits multinational companies at the expense of the people,” said a university student who asked not to be named during a march. anti-Keiko “Tuesday. .

“FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY”

Fujimori supporters, including famous writer Mario Vargas Llosa, say Castillo would risk destabilizing Peru, which has been a relatively safe haven for investors and miners in the region despite recent political turmoil.

“We have to fight for democracy, we don’t want to be a Venezuela, we don’t want to be Cuba,” said Roberto Rios, a pro-Fujimori protester who took part in one of the marches in downtown. Lima this weekend.

“We want to keep our freedoms, that’s all.

Castillo, an elementary school teacher little known until his surprise victory in the first round of the April ballot, plans to rewrite the Peruvian constitution, drawing much more profits from minors and increasing spending on education and health.

He said mining companies “plundered” Peru’s mineral wealth and threatened to nationalize strategic sectors if necessary, but moderated his stance as the campaign progressed and he sought to win over voters in the middle.

Fujimori, who was one percentage point away from victory in the 2016 election, has skyrocketed in opinion polls over the past month, highlighting his security credentials following an attack in May by militants of the Shining Path which left 16 dead.

The Fujimori family is loved and hated to an almost equal extent in Peru. Some hail Alberto Fujimori for his fight against the rebel group in the 1990s and say he laid the foundation for economic growth after years of crisis and hyperinflation.

Others condemn his authoritarian streak, a legacy that weighs heavily on the shoulders of young Fujimori.

Analysts also said a close vote could spark more protests if the losing side does not accept the outcome.

“The crises have already made the country quite unstable,” said Peñaflor. “There will be people who are interested in pulling the rug out from under the feet of whoever is in power. “

Report by Marco Aquino; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien


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