Illustration Credit: Rainer Hachfeld, Cagle Cartoons
Ahead of presidential and congressional elections scheduled for Sunday, Peru is battling a record spike in COVID-19 deaths, underscoring the public health challenges that the next administration will be forced to address and potentially setting the stage for additional surges, as millions of Peruvians gather at the polls. While neighboring Chile postponed its April Constitutional Convention delegate election due to rising caseloads, Peru has elected to proceed with its election scheduled for April 11. With the election only a few days away, let’s meet the top candidates:
Yonhy Lescano, 61, is a former congressman, lawyer, law professor, and radio show host. A centrist who blends social conservatism with economic progressivism, Lescano enjoys high name recognition among the Peruvian electorate; however, the association of his Popular Action party with Manuel Merino, who held Peru’s presidency for less than a week in November 2020 following the impeachment of former President Martín Vizcarra, could limit his support. Lescano himself was suspended from Congress for 120 days in 2019 following an accusation of sexual harassment. Known for his promotion of consumers’ rights and his advocacy for the redistribution of state resources, Lescano has spoken of the need to “deglobalize” Peru’s economy and strengthen domestic production (although he has stopped short of calling for the nationalization of any private enterprises).
Hernando de Soto, 79, is an economist recognized for his promotion of private property, the free market, and the ideology that he calls “popular capitalism.” While this is De Soto’s first run for the presidency, he previously served as the former director of Peru’s Central Bank, an economic advisor to former President Alberto Fujimori, and an advisor to Keiko Fujimori’s 2011 and 2016 presidential campaigns. Supported largely by Lima’s business elite, De Soto was key to the development of Fujimorismo—the private property and deregulation-oriented policy platform credited by many Peruvians with stabilizing the country’s economy and enabling the defeat of the Shining Path insurgency over the course of the 1990s. The current president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, a think tank he founded in 1981, De Soto’s strongest messages throughout the campaign have involved eradicating informality in the labor market, preserving Peru’s 1993 Constitution, and incentivizing the private sector to purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.
Verónika Mendoza, 39, is a former congresswoman who previously ran for president in 2016, finishing third with 18 percent of the vote and failing to advance to the second round. A Quechua-speaking anthropologist from Cusco, Mendoza offers a contrast to the Lima-centric nature of Peruvian politics; her strongest support comes from southern Peru, and especially the cities of Cusco, Arequipa, and Puno, where her emphasis on addressing social and economic inequality may prove especially resonant. The only socially progressive leftist among the leading candidates, Mendoza’s platform advocates for constitutional reform, popular democracy, and progressive reforms in taxation, healthcare, environmental policy, and the agricultural sector.
George Forsyth, 38, is a former soccer goalkeeper, business owner, reality television contestant, and mayor of the working-class municipality of La Victoria, on the outskirts of Lima. Supported mainly by younger, urban, wealthier voters, Forsyth has sought to use his celebrity status and lack of extensive political baggage to his electoral advantage, although critics claim that his pro-business, anti-corruption “tough on crime” presidential platform is vague and lacking in detailed policy. On February 25, Forsyth’s candidacy was declared invalid for a second time by electoral authorities, who cited discrepancies over declared income sources; however, his candidacy was reinstated following an appeal.
Keiko Fujimori, 45, is a former congresswoman and the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights violations, bribery, and embezzlement committed during his presidency. In March, prosecutors indicted Keiko Fujimori—who narrowly lost in the second round of the 2011 and 2016 presidential elections—on charges of obstruction of justice and money laundering related to her alleged receipt of illegal campaign donations from the Brazilian construction firm, Odebrecht. If elected, she has vowed to pardon her father, pursue market-friendly economic policies, and implement more aggressive security policies, transforming Peru into what she terms a “hard democracy.”
Rafael López Aliaga, 60, is a businessman who worked for Citibank and founded PeruVal, a brokerage firm, before entering the hospitality and railway industries. López Aliaga has positioned himself as an ultra-conservative political outsider, enabling him to appeal both to the private sector and to socially conservative Catholics and Evangelical Christians. His vociferous criticisms of reproductive rights and immigration have led some observers to label him the “Peruvian Bolsonaro,” a moniker that López Aliaga has rejected. If elected, López Aliaga has promised to attract foreign private investment to develop Peru’s lithium deposits, has called for public officials convicted of corruption to face life imprisonment, and has pledged to expel Odebrecht from the country.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s political turmoil, the recent ‘VacunaGate’ scandal, and an ongoing economic crisis, Peruvians are split among the top several candidates. (While there are 18 total candidates on the ballot, the six referenced above are the half-dozen most likely to reach a second round run-off, which will be held between the two leading candidates in June in the highly likely event that none receive over 50 percent of the vote on Sunday). As of this week, Lescano is the only candidate to consistently poll in double digits, leading the field despite boasting the support of less than 13 percent of likely voters.