Politics in Peru: A Love-Hate Relationship

So it looks like a contender has finally emerged for Keiko Fujimori: Pedro Pablo Kaczynski who, according to this article, is Oxford educated yet speaks Spanish with an American accent, has a U.S. passport, is married to a woman related to Hollywood actress Jessica Lange, and runs a campaign with the slogan, “Gringo on the Outside, Cholo on the Inside.”

When I asked J. Miguel if this is the candidate he voted for, he told me apathetically that he is not. While J. Miguel remains secretive about who his candidate of choice is, he did tell me in response to the Fujimori-Kaczynski runoff that “it’s the same old people running for president in Peru. They just rotate among each other year after year — no one new ever gets a chance to become a serious contender.”

As an American, who I am to judge? It’s like Bill and Hillary, George H.W. Bush & Sons, and the entire Kennedy clan. Obama was an anomaly, definitely not the norm.

“But why,” I asked him, “is Keiko Fujimori so popular in Peru despite her father’s wrongdoings? You would think his reputation would work against her.”

“Fujimori did good things for Peru at the start of his presidency,” J. Miguel told me. “First of all, when he started out campaigning, he was just an average Peruvian. He wasn’t a career politician, he was a university academic, and people connected with that. And when he became president, his early policies supported the blue collar workers of Peru. He connected poor, isolated communities to the rest of the country by building new roads, and he brought new schools to underserved towns. People saw these changes and began to think of him as a good man.

“With Fujimori, politicians soon figured out that the key to winning an election in Peru is to appeal to the working class since they make up the majority of voters in the country,” J. Miguel explained. “But politicians like Fujimori also realized that there was one other thing about the middle class — as long as you made them happy, they started to simply accept the status quo. They didn’t demand things like transparency or ethics because they didn’t have the resources to fight for those qualities in a president.

“So the longer Fujimori remained president, the more confident he became, so much to the point that he began to abuse his power. He knew the majority of his constituent base would be slow to challenge him and his actions because they didn’t have the resources to do so, and as long as he kept them happy, the easier it was for him to become so powerful that he literally thought no one could take him down.”

It is the failure of Fujimori’s presidency that inspired Peru’s current laws mandating that a president cannot hold power for more than two terms. There no longer is the option for a third re-election thanks to the disaster of the Alberto Fujimori presidency. And J. Miguel, having lived through the Fujimori years as a child, is okay with that. In fact, he would take things a step further to say that Peru should only allow presidents to hold one term with no option of re-election.

“What happened to Peru with Fujimori is what happened to Venezuela with Hugo Chavez and now with Maduro,” J. Miguel told me. “Chavez was an unassuming candidate campaigning for the poor and was allowed to stay president for so long that he became power-hungry and simply destroyed the country.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, also had humble roots, but now as president, he is the subject of ridiculous headlines such as, Has Venezuela President Maduro Gone Insane?

Power is indeed a dangerous thing. And for those who have suffered under its dark side, it’s enough to make many cynical to the democratic process of electing a president.

So while I don’t know who J. Miguel voted for in last weekend’s Peruvian presidential election, nor do I know who he will choose in the final showdown, I must say, I share his discouragement at the quality of candidates before him, for the United States isn’t doing much better in that category, either — at least in my opinion.

As Franklin Pierce Adams once said, “Elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.”

Or, as the Rolling Stones are famous for singing, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Oh, what times we live in!

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