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Peru's Presidential Election Will Pick Country's 5th Leader In 5 Years

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Peru is in the middle of an election that will pick the country's fifth president in five years. With the economy in dire straits after the pandemic and corruption rife, voters have set two extreme opposites to face each other in a June runoff. One is the daughter of the disgraced ex-president, Alberto Fujimori. The other is a rural teacher with only local political experience who was inspired to run because of his struggles keeping kids learning during the COVID crisis. Andrea Moncada is a political analyst who teaches at ESAN University in Lima. She joins us now from just outside that capital. Welcome to the program.

ANDREA MONCADA: Hi. Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with the leftist candidate. His name is Pedro Castillo. How did he get to where he is now?

MONCADA: Yeah, he was a very surprising result in the election. He himself is a farmer. He is seen as someone who can provide an alternative to the political elite with whom most Peruvians are severely disappointed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And his right rival-wing is Keiko Fujimori, a name that is well-known not only because of her father. She has been in Congress for quite some time.

MONCADA: Yes, this is the third presidential election in which she's running. She also is very well-known not just because of her father, but because in the last presidential election that we had in 2016, her party achieved a very large congressional majority. And her party was also seen as very obstructionist, so the population is mostly very disappointed and very against Keiko Fujimori because of this. They feel that she has not behaved in a way that reflects any concern for the problems or issues that the country is facing today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does this mean for democracy in Peru - that two candidates who don't have big constituencies are now running for the presidency?

MONCADA: What it means is that the campaign is starting to become increasingly polarized. And that is because I think both candidates really want people to feel that they present a significant change. I think that's mostly what people are asking for nowadays because of the pandemic. It has severely hit the economy, and we are facing a very terrible health crisis in the country. And so I think both candidates are aiming towards presenting themselves as a radical kind of change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peru's one of the few South American countries considered consistently friendly to the U.S. So, obviously, this will have ramifications. What do you think it will mean for this alliance, depending on who wins?

MONCADA: Foreign policy is not really a topic in the campaign. It never really is with Peru. It mainly tends to focus on economic relations - right? - with other countries. And so with Keiko, I think things would stay largely the same. In the case of Castillo, he does explicitly mention in his campaign program that he will look into reviewing current free trade agreements that we've signed with other countries - I am assuming that also includes the one that we have with the United States - because he argues that we have a "colonial relationship," quote, unquote, with these free trade agreements. He also proposes to expel the DEA from the country - the Drug Enforcement Administration. He has argued that they do not have any reason to be here, while, really, the organization has helped the country with fighting against drug trafficking here in Peru.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think this says about the political fallout from this period more broadly? I mean, we've seen huge swings between the far left and the far right in many places in the world, Peru being the latest example. Does it suggest that traditional models of governance are failing? I mean, as you say, people there are tired of this sort of traditional way of countries doing business.

MONCADA: In Peru in particular, we've always known that the economy wasn't going to hold everything up forever. I think that was sort of, like, the hope within the economic elite - that we didn't really have to do a lot of institutional political reform so long as we were growing economically, right? Peru was one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America for quite some time. That is no longer the case. And so now it's not that people don't want democracy anymore. I think it's just that they want a wholesale renewal of the political class.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And these two candidates - do you think that'll help that feeling?

MONCADA: No (laughter). That's the thing - we don't really have the two best options. Neither of them, I think, people feel they are significantly representative of large amounts of people here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Andrea Moncada is a political analyst in Peru. Thank you very much.

MONCADA: Thank you again.

(SOUNDBITE OF YONDERBOI'S "RIDERS ON THE STORM/PINK SOLIDISM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.