Peru's 2021 Elections

Politics and a Pandemic: Peru’s 2021 Election Cycle is Full of Surprises

Peru has been working through a Presidential crisis since November 2020 when Congress voted to impeach then-President Martín Vizcarra. Protests erupted almost immediately after they appointed Manuel Merino as many Peruvians thought Congress had done so to protect their own political and financial interests. After two protestors were killed by police, Merino was forced to resign and was replaced by Francisco Sagasti, who has held the office since November 17, 2020. Protests had largely tapered off after the death of two activists, though the recent election has acted as a catalyst for more political action. 

The two front runners leading up to the election, Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, come from entirely different backgrounds. Castillo is from the Peruvian highlands and worked his way through school to obtain a bachelors in education and masters in educational psychology from César Vallejo University.

He’s trained as a school teacher and as a union leader in the 2017 education sector protests. His campaign has been described as “chaotic,” with Castillo himself being named a “radical left outsider” by the media, though Peru is a notably conservative country. Castillo is against abortion, same sex marriage, and even spoke out against teaching gender equality lessons in classrooms. Regardless, he won the recent popular vote and is expected to be named the President-elect of Peru soon.

 

Pedro Castillo, Photo: Violeta Ayasta / GEC.

 

Fujimori is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who was impeached and jailed on corruption and crimes against humanity charges after he held the country’s highest office for a decade beginning in 1990. His daughter is running on a similarly conservative platform, with her most notable political power grab coming after the announcement that she had lost the popular vote.

In the days after the votes were tallied, Fujimori has publicly denounced the election process as fraudulent, aiming to throw out nearly 200,000 ballots from first-time indigenous voters, who overwhelmingly voted for Castillo. Both the US State Department and the Organization of American States have contradicted Fujimori’s claims, with the State Department calling the election a “model of democracy.” 

Regardless, Fujimori’s allegations have sparked the most recent wave of protests in the country; hundreds of retired military officers took to the streets of Lima on Tuesday, June 22, some dressed in their military garb and carrying weapons, in support of Fujimori’s claims. Many denounced Castillo as a communist and held signs reading slogans such as “comunismo nunca más” and “abajo el comunismo” (communism never again, down with communism). This protest is in sharp contrast to last November’s march, both in demographics of protestors and the response of police.

 

Veterans hold an anti-Communism banner during a march in support of Fujimori’s claims of election fraud, June 22, 2021. Source, Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters.

 

The protests of November 2020 lasted about a week, fizzling out after two protestors were shot and killed on the sixth day of marching. They were led by young activists, though as El País reports, they had no specific candidate or party they were supporting; just simply protesting the actions of Congress and advocating for a more transparent democracy. An organizer of the protests who identified herself only as Violeta said, “We don’t feel represented by any party fully; our vote as a bloc is anti-Fujimorista and pro-rights.”

The youth vote in Peru is notoriously hard to predict; despite the protest being largely millennials, scholars and reporters alike recognize that younger age groups are just as divided as their elders. The difference, though, is in how the young protestors were treated by the police.

In contrast to the post-election protests that largely featured armed veterans, the marches in November were met with violent police resistance, including the use of tear gas and culminating in the deaths of two protestors. Diego Trujillo, a 30 year old who attended the November protests, told El País, “We are only looking for legitimacy in government.” There were no reports of police violence at the veterans’ march, though that gathering was much smaller than the youth protests of last year. 

 

Protestors and police clash during the protests of November 2020, after the impeachment of former president Vizcarra. Source, CNN.com

 

Much like the anti-communist sentiment that permeated the recent veterans’ protest, journalists like Norka Peralta attribute the violent police reaction to the November protests to fears of the party returning to power. He said, “Anyone who has lived through the 80s is afraid of terrorism, that’s why they want to link the left with Sendero and try to criminalize the protests.”

The idea of equating terrorism with communism is rooted in Peruvian history, and helps to explain the country’s conservative approach to politics and social change.

One important policy point both Fujimori and Castillo agree on, however, is vaccine distribution. Peru is currently facing a third wave of the virus, and the country already has the highest COVID fatality rate per capita in the region. As it stands now, their vaccine distribution rate is improving and currently citizens over 60 are eligible to receive their inoculation.

Officials are hopeful they will be able to at least maintain the current vaccination rate, but that is largely dependent on if the country is able to acquire the necessary numbers of vaccines. The current minister of health, Gustavo Rosell, is confident the incoming government will have access to up to five times more doses than the current administration. The current vaccine schedule indicates that citizens over 40 will be eligible for vaccines in late August, with the goal of opening up access to those over 30 by October. 

 

A woman arranges a her mother’s face mask at their house of the Pamplona Alta section -which suffers water shortage- in the southern outskirts of Lima on May 28, 2020, during the new coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

 

The fact that both leading candidates, who are on opposite sides of the Peruvian political spectrum, were emphasizing the importance of vaccine distribution and made explicit campaign promises to expedite the process shows just how deeply the country has been impacted by the virus. As of June fourth, Johns Hopkins University reported that only 3.7% of the population had been fully vaccinated. Around the same time, the government admitted that the death toll from the virus was almost three times higher than previously reported.

On the other hand, the fact that protests continued despite the virus’ tremendous impact on the country shows just how important maintaining a transparent, fair democracy is to the country’s political ideology. Only time will tell if Fujimori will accept the results and if her supporters will allow for a peaceful transition of power.

 


Hannah Fontaine | Harvard University

Hannah is a recent graduate of Harvard University who wrote her thesis about the connection between the state-sponsored violence of the Guatemalan Revolution and the lack of prosecutorial and judicial success for women who are survivors of sexual violence in the country today. In the fall, she will be attending University of Wisconsin- Madison for law school where she plans to focus on immigration and criminal law. Hannah has been working with Latina Republic since October 2020 and her favorite part about writing articles is using quotes from interview subjects to emphasize their voices and experiences, telling their stories as they want them to be told and highlighting the successes of organizations and movements working to make their communities better.