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Peru Heads To The Polls To Choose A President

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We begin the program in Peru today, where voters are headed to the polls to decide who will be that country's next president. The front-runner is a 40-year-old congresswoman named Keiko Fujimori. Her name may sound familiar because she is the daughter of Peru's former president, Alberto Fujimori, who's now imprisoned for human rights abuses during his term. He is, as you might imagine, an extremely polarizing figure. He's credited with stabilizing Peru's economy after a crippling inflation crisis, but he is also reviled for shutting down Congress and the courts and prosecutors say committing crimes such as directing paramilitary death squads, hence the 25-year prison sentence. Now, the country could elect his daughter to its highest office. To hear more about this, we spoke with freelance journalist Simeon Tegel, who's been covering the election in Lima. And I started by asking him to describe the rest of the presidential field.

SIMEON TEGEL, BYLINE: There's maybe two others who are still in the race at this point and who are fighting for second place. Whoever gets it will then get into the June 5 runoff against Keiko Fujimori, who has a big double-digit lead. One of them is Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. He's a 77-year-old former prime minister. He is relatively conservative, very pro-business, privatization - that kind of thing. His opponent could hardly be more different. She's a young leftist congressman. Her name is Veronica Mendoza. She's 35 years old. She - when she talks really tends to focus on issues of equality and poverty and the corruption that is really rampant in Peru. Her mother's actually French and was in the 1968 student protests in Paris, so her daughter seems to have taken off where her mother left off.

MARTIN: And I take it you assume that there's going to be a runoff, probably because there is such a large field. But - so how is Fujimori positioning herself in this debate?

TEGEL: We imagine there'll be a runoff because she has about 30, 35 percent in the polls, and you need 50 percent to avoid a runoff. She's been trying to moderate Fujimori's ideological positions. Her father, I guess you might say, was on the hard right or authoritarian right. She's tried to move towards the center-right. A lot of Fujimori's traditional supporters, for example, are conservative Catholics and evangelicals. Keiko Fujimori has recently said, for example, that she accepts the idea of same-sex civil unions. That's quite a big move for her party. More than ideologically perhaps, she's also been trying to stress that she's a democrat that wouldn't repeat the high crimes and authoritarian behavior that her father once engaged in.

MARTIN: But given how large Alberto Fujimori looms over the history - the recent history of Peru, is this election largely seen as a referendum on his tenure or not?

TEGEL: I think to a certain degree it is, though it's also interesting Peru is a relatively young country. A lot of voters weren't adults during the 1990s when Fujimori was in charge, so his legacy is really probably the central issue. But people are also looking forward. Another big issue is the economy here. There is a broad consensus within Peru that the free market is the way to go. People don't want to follow the Venezuelan model, and the one person that seems to be at odds with that really of the prominent candidates would be Veronica Mendoza.

MARTIN: That's Simeon Tegel. He's a freelance journalist based in Lima, Peru. Mr. Tegel, thanks so much for speaking with us.

TEGEL: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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