My home country might be about to elect its first female president this weekend. I would be crushed if they did.
On the eve of Peru casting its ballots in Sunday's runoff vote, I am hoping that a 77-year-old Wall Street veteran can pull off some sort of miracle and defeat the 41-year-old woman who's poised to make history by breaking the gender barrier.
Similar to Hillary Clinton in the U.S. election, Fujimori has touted her gender in an effort to win votes. And also similar to Hillary, Keiko is a woman who has gotten far in politics thanks— in good part —to her connection to a powerful man who used to be president.
It might seem obvious, but age and gender don't matter when we're electing a president. A candidate's flaws should not be overlooked. Keiko Fujimori is a woman like me, but she does not represent my values, which is why I can wait for a better candidate to be the first female president of my country.
After weeding out more than a dozen other presidential hopefuls, Sunday's runoff vote is between right-wing candidates Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynsky, or "PPK" as he is known. It's been nearly two months since the first round vote, and Fujimori is leading in the polls thanks to her tough stance on crime and years of campaigning in poor villages in the populist style of her father, former President Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses.
The elder Fujimori, 77, funneled money from the military to buy favorable media coverage in tabloids to promote his bid for reelection in 1995. He also ordered death squads to carry out massacres and allowed forced sterilizations of thousands of indigenous women as a way to reduce poverty.
Electing his daughter Keiko would—in many ways—legitimize the legacy of Alberto Fujimori’s iron-fisted rule in the 1990s. As anti-Fujimoristas like myself like to point out, our country’s collective memory is at stake in Sunday's election.
To outsiders, Keiko Fujimori’s lead in the polls might seem surprising. But she has struck a chord with Peruvians by promising to reduce urban crime. Lima, where one-third of the country's population lives, feels incredibly dangerous. Violence has gotten to the point where there are campaigns to not buy stolen cellphones because they were probably previously owned by someone who was murdered for it.
Keiko Fujimori represents a strong leader who is willing to use whatever means necessary to quell violence. She's effectively trading on her father's iron-fisted legacy. Her father managed to defeated two bloody guerrilla groups that terrorized my country for two decades and for some, her family's autocratic leanings are a necessity in difficult times.
Elder generations who support Fujimori say that young people born after the mid-eighties dislike Keiko because we are naïve. They discredit our criticism of Fujimori because we are too young to remember the dire situation of violence the country went through during the terrorist attacks in the 1990s by the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).
That was an insurrection that Alberto Fujimori was able to break, though many argue he was guilty of employing state terrorism to return civility to the country. Still, many are grateful to him for it.
Among my peers, there are a handful who are supporting Fujimori this Sunday. But when I talk to them, it seems that their support for her is based on cynicism: All politicians will ultimately disappoint us, so why not vote for someone who has a track record of getting the job done? In Peru, that mentality has been reduced to “roba pero hace obra” (He or she steals, but gets stuff done). In part, that explains why her Fuerza Popular party obtained 39.5 % of the vote in April.
While some are quick to forgive or forget Alberto Fujimori's legacy to vote for his daughter it's important to remember that she is also a woman with her own faults. Her demagoguery and populism are reminiscent of Donald Trump’s campaign in the US.
Perhaps most disturbing are her alleged ties to real life narcos. In mid-May, one of her party’s senior officials, Joaquin Ramirez, resigned following media reports that he is under investigation for money laundering by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Ramirez, along with many other shady characters with suspected links to drug trafficking, is considered to be one of Keiko Fujimori's closest allies.
So who's the guy I'm voting for? PPK is more than 50 years older than me, and has a distinguished track record in both the public and private sectors. But he's not the candidate I wanted defending the executive power from Fujimori. He had my full support in 2011, when he ran the first time.
But after losing in the first round back then, he supported Fujimori in the run-off election and even campaigned for her. It weakened his position when he campaigned against her now, saying he was running as a champion of democracy.
Plus, his apathy during the past two months has been nothing short of frustrating. He appeared so listless that political commentators were even starting to question his health, his motivations, and his political instincts.
While the vast majority of people close to me are supporting PPK in this election, they probably would have voted for Keiko Fujimori if a leftist were in the run-off instead of him. Peru is keen on right-wing politicians and afraid of becoming another Venezuela.
But anti-Fujimori sentiment is still one of the few things that gathers people from disparate ideologies. On May 31, a worldwide protest took place against her, drawing 60,000 people to the march in Lima. I attended a parallel protest against Fujimori in New York, where I am currently working.
Even here there were upwards of 100 people gathered in Times Square to show their repudiation of Fujimori.
What caught my eye among the protests here was a young woman with a sign reading “Soy mujer y Keiko no me representa” (I am a woman and Keiko does not represent me).
I feel the same way.
Rashmi Chugani is a financial journalist covering NYC to the Southern Cone. News is her second love, after coffee.