It was a remarkable comeback from April’s first round of presidential voting when, in a seven-way contest, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won just 20 percent of the vote.
LIMA, Peru —
Both candidates ran similar campaigns, promising to wage war on crime and protect one of Latin America’s strongest economies. But Peruvians chose an avuncular technocrat known as PPK for their new president rather than take a chance on a candidate with a toxic last name.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, a former finance minister with Oxford and Princeton degrees, on Thursday was declared the winner of Peru’s closely disputed presidential contest, squeaking out the narrowest of victories over Keiko Fujimori, 41, daughter of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori.
With 100 percent of ballots counted, Kuczynski garnered 50.12 percent of the vote versus Fujimori’s 49.88 percent. His victory margin was 41,000 votes of the 17 million cast.
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It was a remarkable comeback from April’s first round of voting when in a seven-way contest, he won just 20 percent while Fujimori captured 40 percent.
“Thank you Peru,” Kuczynski said at campaign headquarters shortly after the commission’s announcement. “Let’s not confuse dialogue with weakness. We will be decisive, but we will work for all Peruvians because many feel the train has passed over them and we want everyone to be on board.”
Balloting was Sunday and the nation had been on edge awaiting the final results. On Thursday the election commission received the remaining votes from remote mountain areas, enabling it to declare Kuczynski the official winner.
Despite her first-round victory, Fujimori could not overcome voters’ wariness about the influence of her imprisoned father and the perceived risk of a return to his authoritarianism and human-rights crimes. Her repeated promises not to repeat his mistakes or pardon him didn’t sway enough voters, analysts said.
Kuczynski had not made any public statements leading up to the commission’s announcement. Pedro Spadaro, a congressman from Fujimori’s Popular Force party, called a news conference Thursday to say that certain “irregularities” in voting locations and monitoring had been reported and should be reviewed.
Fujimori lost the presidency in 2011 to Ollanta Humala, losing a runoff after outdistancing him and other candidates in the first round.
Fujimori’s father served as president from 1990 to 2000 but was forced to resign after bribery and arms-trafficking scandals emerged around his spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos. Alberto Fujimori was later tried and convicted on corruption and human-rights charges and is serving a 25-year sentence.
Especially damaging to Fujimori was a scandal in the campaign’s final weeks over the alleged connection of her close aide Joaquín Ramírez to a money-laundering scheme. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a statement last month saying she was not being investigated, but a steady drumbeat of news reports probably cost her votes.
In addition, Kuczynski profited from a key endorsement in the campaign’s final days from the third-place candidate in April’s first round of presidential voting, Verónika Mendoza, a charismatic, young socialist congresswoman who has galvanized opposition against big mining projects.
In addition to touting his economics background, Kuczynski promised to fight corruption and violent crime by reforming the judiciary and to remake the nation’s police force in a bid to tamp down on violent crime. Police salaries will be increased as will the interior ministry’s budget, he said.
In the end, voters seemed to see him as the safer choice, a brilliant candidate with a long public record, said Shane Hunt, economics professor emeritus at Boston University and a longtime Peru analyst.
In addition to his stretches as finance minister and World Bank economist, Kuczynski also was Cabinet chief during the Alejandro Toledo administration (2001-06) and energy and mining minister under President Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1980-85). He also has worked for several Wall Street firms.
“For strengths, I would emphasize his wealth of policy experience and a very good mind,” Hunt said. “Put those two qualities together and you get a leader who can create a vision for a country and translate that vision into a set of policies.”
If Kuczynski has a weakness, Hunt said, it could be his “cerebral” approach — but that, too, can be an asset.
“Some policy challenges, like the problem of crime and citizen security, require passion as well as analysis,” Hunt said. “If you battle crime within the law, you have to do it with passion so as to move people. It’s not clear that PPK will be effective in meeting such a challenge, for reasons of personality and because his political party is relatively weak.”
Hunt referred to the fact that PPK’s party, Peruvians for Change, won just 22 seats in the 130-seat Congress in the April elections. To push his legislative agenda, he must make deals with the majority party, Popular Force, led by his election opponent, Fujimori.
Kuczynski’s dual U.S.-Peru nationalities were also a concern for many Peruvians until he renounced U.S. citizenship last year. He is married to an American and his two children live in the United States.
His record of having served on the boards of several multinational mining companies also raised fears of favoritism to big-business interests among Peruvians who feel ambivalent about big mining projects. Mining has helped fuel Peru’s remarkable economic growth over the last decade.
Few underestimate the obstacles PPK may face in dealing with the “fujimorista”-dominated Congress, which faces its own possible leadership struggle between Fujimori and her brother Kenji Fujimori, who won the most votes of any congressional candidate in April.
Moreover, Mendoza, the socialist who endorsed PPK, emphasized in an interview that her 22-member legislative delegation will remain an opposition bloc. She said she extracted no concessions and made no deals with Kuczynski as conditions of her support.
“It had nothing to do with me or PPK,” Mendoza said. “It had to do with defending democracy. We couldn’t have ‘fujimorismo’ back to govern us.”