Two candidates with drastically different visions for Peru’s future face off in a presidential run-off vote on Sunday, polarizing an electorate battered by the pandemic.
Left-wing frontrunner Pedro Castillo is promising greater state control over markets and natural resources as part of a plan to bring the benefits of economic growth to Peru’s poorest, while attempting to head off warnings that his policies will turn Peru into an economic basket case like Venezuela.
His rival, right-wing Keiko Fujimori, seeks to convince voters that Peru’s existing economic and political system needs tweaking, not overhauling – and that her presidency won’t mean more of the corruption and human rights abuse claims which characterized her father Alberto Fujimori’s rule from 1990-2000.
Peruvians are most concerned about how the country will recover from the pandemic, which has exposed rampant inequality that persists despite significant increases in gross domestic product (GDP) and decreases in average poverty rates in recent decades. Both candidates have proposed reforms related to the key mining sector, but Fujimori is relying on government benefit packages to attract voters while Castillo has floated structural changes to the economy.
Fujimori has promised massive spending to compensate every Peruvian family that lost someone to Covid-19 with 10,000 soles ($2,600), plus 10 billion soles ($2.6 billion) in loans to small businesses to aid recovery. Her promises include delivering free water to communities not served by the main supply grids and granting two million land titles.
Meanwhile, Castillo has promised to cancel major mining projects in Conga and Tingo Maria, reform the pension system, decentralize public universities and create a ministry of science and technology to boost industrialization.
“We are going to recover the wealth with the re-negotiation of contracts with large companies, with mining companies that take the country’s wealth,” he said. “How is it possible that in such a rich country there is so much misery, so much inequality, and only the biggest profit, even if they don’t work.”
Schoolteacher vs. political scion
“At the moment in Peru, in the middle of a health crisis and an economic crisis, there is a sort of competition of populist proposals,” said Peruvian political analyst Fernando Tuesta, who told CNN that increasingly tight polling has encouraged the candidates to make offers they think will attract voters.
A schoolteacher and union leader, Castillo enjoys strong support outside of Peru’s capital, Lima, where more people struggle to access public services such as healthcare and education, attracting voters who want change.
Fujimori, who dominates Lima – home to around one-third of the Peruvian population – has meanwhile drawn together voters for whom the current system is working and who want to keep the left out of power.