Peru and PH and dictators’ offspring
SEATTLE—Much like in the Philippines, brand recognition appears to be highly valued by voters in Peru. Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, currently holds a commanding lead in polls a month from the general elections. How could Peru and the Philippines both be looking at the possibility of the offspring of two of the most notorious dictators of the 20th century reaching the highest political offices of their respective countries? What is it about dictatorial dynasties that attracts voters?
Like Ferdinand Marcos after declaring martial law, Alberto Fujimori imposed an authoritarian model on Peru after his self-coup of 1992. Although some democratic forms were preserved, human rights violations were frequent, the press answered to the president, and massive graft became commonplace. These measures were framed as necessary in order to stabilize the economy and to successfully put an end to the dangerous Maoist insurgency of Shining Path. Of course, they remained in effect long after both objectives had been largely accomplished. Soon after being reelected for a legally questionable third term in office, Fujimori had to resign in 2000, amid accusations of voter fraud, corruption and abuse of power.
Both dictators tried to found political dynasties. Like her counterpart Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Keiko Fujimori was groomed from a young age. Upon her parents’ estrangement, Keiko was promoted to first lady, a position that allowed her to begin cultivating a public persona through her activities in high-profile charitable organizations. Also, like Marcos Jr., she studied abroad—in the United States—and has been accused of using public money to pay for her tuition. She does appear to have completed those studies, however. Her younger brother, Kenji, is also a congressman.
Much like Marcos Jr. after his father’s exile, Keiko bided her time for five years before returning to her country and running for Congress in the 2006 elections, in which she garnered the highest individual vote count among all candidates. After a dismal period as congresswoman—in which she achieved the dubious distinctions of having one of the lowest attendance rates and number of bills submitted among all members of Congress—she ran for president in 2011, narrowly losing out in the ballotage against current president Ollanta Humala. How could such an ineffective legislator come within a hair’s breadth of the presidency, and seemingly be ready to win it in 2016?
Peru’s political system suffers from many of the same issues afflicting the Philippines. Political parties lack cohesion, and politicians lack any sort of ideological guideline, switching allegiances at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, patron-client relations—if not outright vote-buying—run rampant in a society in which inequality is widespread. And while there may not be institutionalized avenues for setting up these relations—such as “pork barrel” funds—corruption and embezzlement fill the void to provide candidates with cash. These practices are still tolerated by large numbers of Peruvian voters, following the logic of roba pero hace obra: He/she steals, but gets things done.
Keiko is currently polling at around 30 percent. Voters are enthralled by the legacy of her father; they remember the man who “defeated Shining Path terrorism” and “put an end to the economic crisis,” and overlook his conviction on charges of corruption and human rights violations. With corruption an intrinsically forgivable offense, the memory of his “iron-fisted” policies brings about fits of nostalgia in a country perceived to be overrun by violent crime. What these voters are looking for is a Rodrigo Duterte who will wipe out criminals, and the niceties of democracy be damned.
And yet, there is a growing sector of the electorate that rejects authoritarianism and corruption, limiting Keiko’s growth in the polls. Although she has tried to distance herself from the more unsavory practices of her father’s administration, such as the forced sterilization of impoverished highland women, the use of death squads, and the manipulations of the legal system—couched in the rhetoric of “mistakes” rather than “crimes,” of course—this has proven insufficient to move her beyond a solid third of the electorate. She is unable to woo progressive voters. But there are hints that she is now moving toward vindicating her father’s legacy as the elections near.
At any rate, it is probable that Marcos Jr. might be paying attention to Keiko’s performance in Peru’s April election. It may be the perfect case study for him to learn from in order to run for the presidency itself. All the more reason for the rest of the Philippines to keep track of what is happening at the other side of the Pacific.
Jorge Bayona is a native of Lima, Peru. He is a PhD history student at the University of Washington in Seattle, completing his dissertation comparing colonial Peru and the Philippines.
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