Sun June 5, 2011
Latin America

In Peruvian Election, A Stark Choice



Now, to Peru. Voters there go to the polls today to pick their next president in the final round of voting and the candidates couldn't be more different. One is a right-wing lawmaker and the daughter of a disgraced, jailed ex-president. The other is a left-wing former army commander who led a failed uprising against the president.

Reporter Annie Murphy is in Peru and joins us to talk about today's election. Hello, Annie.

ANNIE MURPHY: Hi, there.

LYDEN: Annie, tell us a bit more about these candidates. They are radically different.

MURPHY: Yeah. You have two very, very different candidates in this election. First, you have Keiko Fujimori, who is a conservative. She was a congressman. She's also the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, a former president, who's now in jail on corruption charges and human rights abuses. Some voters are also worried that if Keiko Fujimori was elected that she also could have corruption issues and she might even pardon her father and let him out of jail.

Then you have Ollanta Humala, who on the other hand, is a leftist who served in the military. Humala ran for president in 2006 and he had widespread support. Back then he also had ties to Hugo Chavez. Now he's much more moderate, more like Brazil's former president Inacio Lula da Silva.

LYDEN: Apart from their background, what are the main election issues for voters?

MURPHY: First, I think it's really important to take into account the Peru is a really different place than it was a few decades ago. In the '80s and '90s the big issues were widespread violence by the guerilla group Shining Path, as well as by the military too. The economy was also a wreck at the time. Now, Peru has a booming economy - lots of international investment.

Today, Peruvians talk mainly about wanting the economy to stay strong. Growth is about 7 percent right now. Many Peruvians worry about basic citizen security, particularly in Lima; education, poverty reduction. And lastly the environment is becoming a growing concern for some sectors. Particularly for indigenous groups whose land rights have been trampled by biggest extraction projects.

LYDEN: How is it that two such potentially polarizing candidates, as you described, are the last one standing?

MURPHY: In the first round, there were about a dozen candidates and there were various moderate options so that that more centrist vote got split. That's how we have the two candidates we are looking at today.

Improving democracy is still quite young in a lot of ways, given that the return to a democratic government happened just a decade ago. So, like most of Latin America, there are still a huge socioeconomic inequality here, which means an entrenched elite still calls the shots. That's kind of a big part of what's going on today.

LYDEN: The winner of this election succeeds Alan Garcia. What kind of leader was he?

MURPHY: This is his second time in office. He was president in the '80s as well. His administration governed during a time in Peru's history where there were huge issues of violence and social unrest and the economy, when he left office the first time around, was actually worse than when he entered

This time, his approval ratings has rarely been over 30 percent, so he hasn't gained much popularity. On the other hand, though, Peru's seen an economic boom under Garcia, so that's important to note, and the poverty rate has fallen. So. he's overseen some growth improve, but a lot of the population is not behind him.

LYDEN: Annie Murphy joined us from Lima, Peru. Thank you very much, Annie.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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