By Kejal Vyas and Ryan Dube
A far-left activist in Peru who pledges to seize foreign mines
and the daughter of a former authoritarian president will face each
other in a presidential election that gives voters two starkly
different ideological options in a country battered by political
turmoil and the pandemic.
The election pits Pedro Castillo, a 51-year-old former school
teacher who says he would nationalize mining projects and dismantle
a business-friendly economic model, against Keiko Fujimori, whose
father ruled Peru with an iron hand.
That Mr. Castillo, who leads a Marxist-inspired party that
glorifies Fidel Castro, could win office is rattling a business
class that has prospered as Peru's trade-friendly economy boomed
for much of the last two decades. Among major investors here are
subsidiaries of Anglo American PLC, Newmont Mining Corp. of Denver,
and Aluminum Corporation of China.
"We're often told that only political scientists,
constitutionalists, erudite politicians, those with grand degrees
can govern a country," Mr. Castillo told supporters recently.
"They've had enough time."
The emergence of two candidates on the far spectrums of Peru's
politics has deeply concerned an establishment badly shaken by the
recent ouster of presidents, corruption scandals and protests. Now,
Peruvian political observers worry about the candidates' democratic
"I'm very worried about the survival of Peruvian democracy,"
said Julio Carrion, a Peruvian political scientist at the
University of Delaware. "Regardless of who wins, two-thirds of the
country is going to be unhappy, and the winner may misread the
results thinking they have a mandate that they really don't
A spokeswoman for Ms. Fujimori declined to comment. Mr.
Castillo's spokesman said "the constitutional order is guaranteed"
if he ends up ruling Peru.
The two frontrunners emerged Sunday from a pool of 18 candidates
from myriad non-ideological parties that participated in the first
round of elections. Mr. Castillo won 19% of the vote to 13% for Ms.
Fujimori. They now go to a second and final stage of voting on June
Though a social conservative, Mr. Castillo's party lauds the
leftist revolutionary governments of Cuba and Venezuela and aims to
replicate their policies by expanding state control over industry.
In 2017, Mr. Castillo led a strike by a radical faction of the
teachers union that officials at the time said was composed of
members of a ruthless former Maoist insurgency.
"He's a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Carlos Basombrio, who as
interior minister at the time presented police intelligence reports
to Congress outlining the alleged radical ties. "This is the world
he moves in."
Mr. Castillo denies the accusations.
Ms. Fujimori, who until May was jailed at a women's detention
center in Lima on money-laundering charges she denies, has said she
will free her father, Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year
prison term for human-rights crimes and corruption from his 10-year
presidency, which ended in 2000.
Whoever wins will face a deeply fragmented Congress. Mr.
Castillo's far-left platform is likely to impede his ability to
build the political coalitions necessary to win over centrist
parties, economists at JPMorgan Chase said in a report to clients
"It is inconceivable that whoever wins is going to be able to
govern effectively," said Michael Shifter, president of the
Inter-American Dialogue policy group in Washington.
But after Sunday's vote -- in which Peruvians also elected
lawmakers -- Mr. Castillo's party is expected to have the most
seats in Congress, even though it will lack a majority.
For many Peruvians, the election is a low point for the nation's
young democracy, threatening a return to the political upheaval
that had been the norm for much of its history.
The economy contracted by 11% in 2020 as the pandemic raged,
killing more than 55,000 and giving the country one of the world's
highest mortality rates from Covid-19.
The pandemic came in the wake of violent protests in November
against Congress after lawmakers ousted President Martin Vizcarra.
In the span of a week, Peru was led by three presidents.
Often donning a straw hat, Mr. Castillo swept up support across
the Andean highlands, his stronghold.
He promised to hike teachers' salaries and tackle inequality as
millions of people were driven back into poverty by the pandemic.
He has pledged to draft a new constitution that will give the
government control over mining, gas and oil while sharply raising
taxes and limiting the profits foreign investors can repatriate.
And he says he will close the Constitutional Tribunal, the
country's high court.
Though the motto of Mr. Castillo's party is "We're going to
socialism without fear," his campaign message is seen as a warning
to foreign businesses: "No more looting of Peru."
Ms. Fujimori, who lost bids for the presidency in 2011 and 2016,
is building alliances with center-right parties in the hope of
gaining an upper hand.
But she faces serious hurdles, including graft charges, which
she says are politically motivated. Ms. Fujimori has also been
overshadowed by the legacy of her father, who beat back the
fanatical Shining Path rebels but fled his country in disgrace in
the face of revelations of rights abuses.
When he was president, she served as First Lady because he had
divorced. Many Peruvians blame her party's actions in Congress for
the political upheaval of the past five years.
María González, a 60-year-old nurse in Lima, said she doesn't
know whom to support. The only reason she voted Sunday was to avoid
the fine Peru levies against those who abstain from casting a
"They're both awful," Ms. González said of the two candidates.
"I don't want to vote for anyone. We're tired."
Write to Kejal Vyas at email@example.com and Ryan Dube at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 13, 2021 14:42 ET (18:42 GMT)
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