For the second time in five years a presidential election in Peru has been turned into a referendum on the legacy of imprisoned former dictator Alberto Fujimori.
His 41-year-old daughter, Keiko Fujimori, leads the race going into Sunday's run-off round, provoking fears of a return to power for her father's circle, whose decade in government ended in 2000 in a blizzard of espionage and corruption scandals.
After several years of exile in Japan, Fujimori was returned to Peru and jailed in 2007 for corruption. In 2009 a court sentenced him to 25 years for his role in death squads. Keiko says her father is innocent, raising suspicions she might use the presidency to pardon him, despite promising not to.
Fujimori's opponent, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is betting on a repeat of the 2011 election when her first-round lead was wiped out by a late anti-Fujimori mobilisation by both left and right that elected nationalist Ollanta Humala, a former military officer.
Fujimori won April’s first round with 40 per cent of the vote, while Kuczynski, a 77-year-old former
economist, limped behind in second with just 21 per cent. But since then the race has tightened dramatically, with Fujimori’s lead cut to fewer than five points in some polls with a fifth of voters still undecided.
The lavishly funded Fujimori campaign has also been hit by accusations that some of her backers are involved in drug trafficking. In recent years Peru has vied with Colombia to be the world's top producer of cocaine. Vladimiro Montesinos, who served as Alberto Fujimori's spy chief and is in prison alongside him, has been implicated as the head of a drug- and arms-trafficking network.
Joaquín Ramírez, general secretary of Fujimori's Popular Force movement, stepped down last month after it was revealed he was being investigated for money laundering by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as part of its investigation into drug trafficker Miguel Arévalo Ramírez.
A Peruvian pilot and DEA informant told Peruvian media that Joaquín Ramírez said he had laundered $15 million for Fujimori’s 2011 presidential campaign. She denies any wrongdoing and the DEA says she is not a target of its investigation.
Fujimori’s appeal is strongest among Peru’s urban poor, many of whom revere her father as the man who defeated the fanatical Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and tamed hyper-inflation. Her campaign has also benefited from an alliance with the country’s growing evangelical Christian community, to whom she has promised to block any attempts to liberalise abortion and to ban gay marriage. She has also vowed to institute the death penalty for child rapists.
She has sought to portray Kuczynski as an out-of-touch member of Peru’s traditional white elite who has spent half his life living in the US, where most of his family resides. Even his own supporters were frustrated when he took a week off from his campaign to visit the home he still maintains there.
However, as the campaign has reached its end, Kuczynski has been boosted by a general anti-Fujimori mobilisation. This has seen the economic liberal receive strong backing from Verónika Mendoza, the left-wing candidate he beat for a slot in the run-off, who says Kuczynski is now the only hope for blocking the return of the Fujimori circle to power.
Despite the increasing political polarisation, Peru’s markets have been relatively tranquil ahead of the second round, having rallied after the first round produced a run-off between two candidates advocating market-friendly policies.
But whoever wins on Sunday will face the challenge of reforming the country’s political system, which is inefficient and corrupt and has failed to accompany the rising expectations of voters, increasingly better off thanks to Chinese demand for the country’s minerals.
Like his two immediate predecessors, Humala has seen his popularity worn down by constant scandals and will leave office with his approval rating stuck in the teens despite praise from the international community for his stewardship of the economy.