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5 things you need to know about Peru’s presidential election

Presidential front-runner Keiko Fujimori waves during her campaign’s closing rally on June 2 in Lima, Peru’s capital. (Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty)

LIMA, Peru — Peru’s presidential runoff election takes place Sunday with front-runner Keiko Fujimori, the 41-year-old daughter of former autocratic leader Alberto Fujimori, facing off against a prominent economist and former prime minister, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Here are five things you need to know about the election in this Andean nation:

1. There’s a dad issue looming over the vote.

The appeal of Keiko — usually referred to by just her first name — is based on the hard-right legacy of her father, who was president from 1990 to 2000. He is revered by many Peruvians for ruthlessly tackling both hyperinflation of more than 12,000 percent and the Maoist Shining Path rebels who racked up a death toll of 31,000 victims, mainly in remote villages in the Andes and Amazon. However, the elder Fujimori also shuttered the country’s Congress, led what many regard as a kleptocracy, and is now serving a 25-year jail sentence for crimes including running death squads and bribing journalists to smear his opponents. Critics charge that Keiko would be like her father; she insists she embraces democracy.

2. Keiko’s opponent is a Wall Street wonk.

Keiko is facing off against Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a 77-year-old Wall Street investor and technocrat. Widely known by his initials, PPK is a center-right policy wonk who had stints at the World Bank and served as economy minister and prime minister. The Fujimoristas have sought to portray him as too old and as a member of Lima’s “white” elite, out of touch with the harsh realities of Peru’s poor majority.

3. Corruption allegations have raised fears about traffickers’ influence.

Keiko’s campaign has been overshadowed by various corruption scandals. The biggest bombshell was the revelation that one of her closest confidants, Joaquín Ramírez, secretary general of her Popular Force party and one of its principal financiers, is being investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for allegedly laundering $15 million for Keiko in a prior campaign. Ramírez denies the allegation. Separately, independent experts have linked as many as 17 new Fujimorista members of Congress, elected on April 10, to cocaine money. Keiko, meanwhile, prompted incredulity when she said that she “never” asks her major party donors how they came by their money.

4. Both candidates champion the free market, but there is a chasm on social issues.

On economic plans, PPK and Keiko are largely reading from the same hymn sheet, promising free-trade policies and deregulation. On social policy, they could hardly be more different: While Keiko has allied herself with conservative Catholics and evangelicals, including one prominent minister who regards gays as an “aberration,” one of PPK’s main allies is the country’s first openly homosexual member of Congress. Keiko has promised to get tough on violent crime, with campaign pledges including use of the military to patrol the streets. PPK wants to address crime by creating opportunities for teenagers to steer them away from street gangs, focusing the prison system on rehabilitation and modernizing police training and equipment.

5. A lot is at stake for Peru. 

Peru is held back by endemic corruption, and research from Transparency International shows that Peruvians have lost respect for a laundry list of public institutions, from the police to Congress. The upshot is that despite the country having the strongest economic growth in Latin America this millennium, just 24 percent of Peruvians say they are happy with democracy. Whoever wins on Sunday, Peru’s new president will need to have an effective anti-corruption strategy and be seen to be prioritizing a move against graft.

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