Exeter alumnus Kuczynski elected President of Peru

This article was originally  written for and published in Exon Magazine Issue 19 (2016)

Exeter alumnus Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has been elected President of Peru in one of the tightest races in the country’s history! Kuczynski, better known by his initials PPK narrowly edged passed his rival Keiko Fujimori (daughter of imprisoned former-President Alberto Fujimori) with an astonishing 50.1% to her 49.9%… a margin of just 40,000 votes out of the 18 million counted proving the difference! As the unlikely winner in a hugely dramatic and controversial election, the challenge for PPK is only just beginning…

Kuczynski, former PPE Exeter undergraduate (1956) is hardly your typical candidate. At 77, he has become Peru’s oldest elected President. Regarded as the “orthodox economist” of this year’s elections, PPK was hired by the World Bank at just 23 and went on to pursue a career in Private Equity and Banking in the States. He has also filled various roles in Peru as manager of Peru’s Central Bank (1960s), Minister of Energy and Mines (1980s) and Prime Minister (2000s).

It’s no surprise then that his party, Peruanos Por el Kambio (Peruvians for Change) will seek change through a conservative pro-business model based on tax-reduction and increased public investment. His ambitions to stimulate Peru’s economy are built on promises of raising Peru’s GDP by 6% through a restructuring of its booming Copper industry as well as incentives for small businesses.  His other main policies include raising minimum wage, improving health care and water sanitation and tackling both poverty and crime. Despite criticisms that he represents a President “straight from Wall Street”, PPK is expected to bring vast business experience to Peru’s hopes of maintaining its economic growth.

This said, PPK’s triumph has been less about his own campaign than that of his rival’s. Indeed, the theme of this year’s elections has been dominated by his opposition Keiko Fujimori, or more specifically the highly controversial Fujimorismo legacy that she is seen to represent. Nothing divides Peru like the shadow of her father Alberto, currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for murder, corruption and human right violations during his rule. Whilst he is revered by many as the saviour of Peru’s economy and is widely credited with ending terrorism following his 1990s dirty war against Maoist rebel group Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path), to the other half of the country Fujimori represents authoritarian rule, corruption, organised crime and death squads. The polarising Fujimorismo has thus proven to be the crucial piece in Peru’s political puzzle, with the elections largely representing a referendum on Alberto’s legacy.

For PPK’s voters, his victory will be perceived as a triumph of democracy over authoritarian rule. Yet, there is no denying that Kuczynski owes his victory largely to the fierce anti-Fujimorismo protest vote which has propelled him past frontrunner Keiko following a series of corruption scandals and investigations into her Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party in the final week of campaigning. The thousands of protesters who gathered in Lima, across Europe, the U.S and on social media to reject PPK’s opposition ultimately served as the wind behind Kuczynski’s sails and proved just enough to secure his razor-thin lead.

Given the tightness of the result, it is clear that the real challenges lie ahead when PPK takes office on July 28th; his first major task will be to unite a divided country. Whilst Keiko enjoys a firm and dedicated backing, the same can hardly be said about Kuczynski. PPK’s underwhelming 20% in the April first round elections speaks volumes, especially when compared to Keiko’s 40%. Kuczynski will have to accept that a large proportion of his votes are votes of rejection to Keiko, rather than approval of his programme. Many left-leaning supporters, including the influential Verónika Mendoza (who crucially endorsed PPK on election day) have declared that they will oppose many of his policies, which begs the question as to how many voters PPK can count as ‘his’. It is widely predicted that his support will collapse the minute he steps into power, which is something that Peru’s next President will certainly have to prepare himself for.

The second and perhaps greatest challenge will be PPK’s approach to legislation, with Keiko’s Fuerza Popular holding absolute majority in Congress. Policy-making will inevitably be an uphill struggle for PPK given that Keiko holds 75 representatives in Peru’s 130-member Congress; Kuczynski a mere 18. The reality is that everything will have to pass through the very Fujimoristas that Peru’s 50.1% has so fiercely rejected. Thus, Kuczynski risks finding himself between a rock and a hard place, torn between appeasing his anti-Fujimorismo voters whilst having to negotiate and make concessions to Keiko and her party. With the cards seemingly in Keiko’s hands, PPK is set to endure political isolation and at the very least, frustration.

The third challenge for PPK will involve rectifying his image. Despite boasting the favourable reputation as Peru’s least corrupt candidate, PPK has often been accused of being simply too old, too white and too out of touch with the Peruvian people. His affiliations with the wealth class and international business elite don’t sit well with many of the indigenous voters who are firmly behind Keiko after 5 years of tireless campaigning in some of Peru’s remotest regions. This said, PPK has made big promises to tackle inequality and poverty; now it is time for the middle-class technocrat to prove his heart is with the people.

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