LIMA—Peru appears to be heading for a presidential runoff election on June 5 between Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Kuczynski after neither candidate managed to win the 50% needed to claim an outright victory in Sunday's first round of voting.
Progressive candidate Veronika Mendoza, who had been gaining in the polls on a platform of "radical change," finished in third place and didn't qualify for the two-candidate runoff, according to the early vote count results. Her supporters could now help decide the fate of the June runoff between two conservative opponents.
Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, is backed by Peruvians who credit her father with fixing the economy and taming the maoist Shining Path guerrillas. Many younger voters in working class areas have also been attracted to her campaign by her promises to crack down on crime and support small businesses.
But Fujimori has also met stiff resistance from those who saw her father as a dictator who destroyed the country’s democracy by overthrowing congress, intimidating media outlets, and orchestrating a controversial forced sterilization campaign targeting poor and indigenous women. The elder Fujimori is currently in jail for human rights abuses, and his daughter has promised not to push for his release if she becomes Peru's first female president.
“Peru wants reconciliation,” she told a group of her supporters on Sunday night, after it became clear she would advance to the second round.
The anti-Fujimori vote in Peru will now gravitate towards Kuczynski, a 77-year-old banker and former finance minister who has promised to deepen trade with the U.S.
Kuczynski, is widely viewed as the standard bearer for Peru’s current economic system which has helped this nation to significantly reduce poverty rates and become one of South America's fastest growing economies, even though growth has slowed down recently due to a global fall in commodity prices. Kuczynski is a proponent of a development model based on foreign investment and exports that has also been criticized for broadening the gap between rich and poor.
Related: why some young Peruvians are voting for an old banker
The former World Bank economist was not favored by leftist groups who’d like to see more protection for local agriculture and laws that would give indigenous groups more leverage over mining projects. But some leftists have said that faced with a two-way runoff between Kuczynski and Fujimori, they'll likely opt for the economist, who describes himself as a moderate centrist. Voting in Peru is mandatory.
“In Peru we have often had to vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Loreta Alba, a Mendoza supporter who attended an anti-Fujimori march before the first round of voting. “It’s a shame, but it says a lot about our political system.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.