CCANO, Peru — This remote hamlet high in the Peruvian Andes is nearly drained of color, save for the bright orange campaign signs plastered on walls and houses promoting presidential hopeful Keiko Fujimori.
It’s an emblem of the poor community’s continued loyalty to her father, now imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, who is credited by the corn and potato farmers here with defeating a Maoist-inspired rebel group that slaughtered their parents and children during a brutal armed conflict.
“When Keiko is president, she will do right, using what she learned from her dad,” Vicente Vicana said in Quechua-accented Spanish last week as he gathered with neighbors to receive the remains of 31 people killed by Shining Path guerrillas in a village church in 1991, at the start of the elder Fujimori’s presidency.
But other Peruvians remember Fujimori as the man who ordered army tanks to shut down Congress in 1992, reorganizing the country’s judiciary and sparking a political crisis as a new constitution was drafted.
While about half of Peruvians say they would never vote for anyone connected to the former strongman, rural voters haunted by the conflict that claimed 70,000 lives say the country needs a firm hand to keep violence at bay and plan to cast ballots for Keiko Fujimori in Sunday’s election. Voting is compulsory in Peru, where the ballot also lists candidates for 130 new members of Congress.
In tiny Ccano, many peasants worked with the military to fight the rebels. The Shining Path stormed a church here in retaliation, killing everyone praying inside.
Last month, officials exhumed the victims’ bones from an unmarked mass grave and returned the remains to the village in simple white caskets.
“Alberto Fujimori brought peace. He was a good man; without him, the Shining Path would have killed us all,” said Vicana, who lost his wife and two daughters in the church killing.
Vicana worries that leftist insurgents could return if a weak leader were elected.
Polls for months have shown the 40-year-old Keiko Fujimori as the favorite going into Sunday’s contest, with a double-digit lead, although she is expected to fall short of capturing the simple majority of votes needed to avoid a June runoff. It’s not clear which of her rivals might make it into a second round against Fujimori, but because the Peruvian electorate tends to prefer outsiders she would not be guaranteed a win.
Her base of support is in places like Ccano, where promises to build roads, clinics and schools recall her agronomist father’s own legacy of delivering aid to the long-overlooked countryside.
Keiko Fujimori’s political career began early. After her parents split when she was a teenager, her father named her his “first lady” in 1994. She was elected to Congress in 2006 and narrowly lost to Ollanta Humala in a 2011 presidential runoff. Peruvian law prevents Humala from running for a second, consecutive term.
She has praised her father’s work in rural areas while vowing not to revive his hardline regime marred by corruption and human rights violations. In an attempt to project a more modern image, she has also vowed that if elected she will not pardon her father, who is serving 25 years in prison for authorizing death squads and for corruption during his decade-long rule.
It’s a promise that rings hollow with many urban voters. Lima has seen street protests against her candidacy in recent weeks, with demonstrators expressing horror at the acts her father carried out.
Among those is Gisela Ortiz, whose brother was studying in Lima to be a teacher when he was kidnapped and killed in 1992, along with his professor and eight classmates, by soldiers allegedly acting with government’s consent. His body was found 15 months later in a mass grave.
On Tuesday, the 24th anniversary of Peru’s constitutional crisis, Ortiz joined tens of thousands in chanting “Never again” during a street protest in Lima. Protesters held signs reading “No More Fujimori,” wore masks caricaturing father and daughter, and painted their inner thighs red to commemorate the thousands of indigenous women subjected to forced sterilizations under the former president.
“She was the first lady of a criminal regime that ended the lives of our loved ones, in addition to engaging in serious corruption,” Ortiz said of Keiko Fujimori.
The race has been marred by the late disqualification of two candidates on technical grounds, including one who was Fujimori’s strongest challenger. International groups say the eliminations have undermined trust in Peruvian electoral officials and fueled speculation Fujimori’s allies are pulling the strings.
“All this controversy, all these problems and crises with the elections officials have had a negative impact on Fujimori,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, who lived in Lima for four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
There is a virtual dead heat for second place between the leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza and former Wall Street investor Pedro Kuczynski.
Of the three main candidates, only Mendoza, who fell out with Humala’s government over its crackdown on anti-mining protesters, is looking to radically change the pro-business economic model that propelled record growth over the past decade. If elected, she has vowed to rewrite the constitution, ramp up public spending and reduce Peru’s dependence on multinational mining projects that she says degrade the environment. Peru is among the world’s top three silver producers.
Candidates have also pledged to end the theft and corruption at public institutions that marked the old Fujimori administration. The younger, U.S.-educated Fujimori has gone to great lengths to convince voters of the same promise. During a televised debate Sunday, she signed a statement promising to respect institutions and human rights if she wins.
“I know how to judge the history of my country,” Fujimori said. “I know which chapters should be repeated, and I’m very clear about which ones should not.”