Dynastic politics are still strong across the globe. Hillary Clinton seems poised to follow in her husband’s footsteps and become President of the United States. Another Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada last October. Chinese President Xi Jinping is a so-called “princeling.” And, as has been well documented on this blog, dynasties rule the political scene in the Philippines.
The front runner in Peru’s presidential election also has a familiar last name: Fujimori. Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who held office from 1990 to 2000. Ex-President Fujimori’s regime did some good in Peru; for example, his liberal economic reforms helped to launch a period of economic growth. But his regime was also brutal and plagued by corruption. President Fujimori is in prison today, serving a 25 year sentence for human rights violations. He’s also been convicted of a number of corruption-related offenses, including using his spy chief to bribe journalists, business people, judges, and opposition politicians.
Despite this legacy of corruption, and the fact that Peruvians view corruption as one of the most serious problems facing the country, Congresswoman Fujimori sits atop the polls of the 2016 election. Is this a problem? How much should Peruvian voters consider Alberto Fujimori’s corruption and human rights abuses when they vote next month? And to what extent should the Fujimori family legacy affect their assessment of Congresswoman Fujimori’s approach to corruption?
These are complicated questions. On the one hand, it seems unfair to hold Keiko Fujimori accountable for her father’s misdeeds. She’s denied any involvement in his corruption (though her higher education in the United States was allegedly paid for by funds he embezzled). She was also quite young during his presidency — only 15 when he assumed office, 19 when she became First Lady after her parents’ split, and 25 when her father fled to Japan to escape corruption allegations. Given Congresswoman Fujimori’s lack of obvious culpability in her father’s bad acts and her young age at the time, it seems inappropriate to hold her responsible for those acts.
On the other hand, Keiko Fujimori has, in part, built her career on her father’s. His surname helped catapult her to victory in the 2006 congressional elections, and in that and all of her subsequent elections—including a failed presidential bid in 2011—she’s run on a so-called “Fujimorist” agenda centered on free market and tough-on-crime policies. Given how eagerly Congresswoman Fujimori has embraced her role as her father’s political heir, it likewise seems inappropriate to let her off the hook entirely for the negative aspects of her father’s legacy.
In assessing whether Congresswoman Fujimori will act effectively against corruption if elected president (something that she, like every other candidate, has promised to do), we should look primarily to what she herself has done (or failed to do) already in the fight against corruption, but we should also consider the extent to which she has distanced herself from her father’s corrupt past. On these grounds, Congresswoman Fujimori’s record demonstrates major cause for concern:
- First, Congresswoman Fujimori’s personal record on corruption is poor. This is, of course, the most important consideration; nothing reflects more strongly on a politician’s future behavior than his or her past actions. Last year Congresswoman Fujimori’s party was accused of conspiring with fellow opposition party APRA to avoid corruption investigations. The two parties united to block embezzlement investigations into both Keiko Fujimori herself and former APRA minister Pedro Sanchez, who served in former president Alan Garcia’s administration. Even assuming Congresswoman Fujimori knew she was personally innocent, her willingness block investigations into others in order to protect herself is unsettling. Further, in the instances where Congresswoman Fujimori has chosen to take more activist anticorruption stances, those stances have taken on a distinctly political flavor. For example, in light of corruption allegations against the sitting First Lady, Congresswoman Fujimori called for the First Lady to be removed and tried in court. While this may well be the right decision, Congresswoman Fujimori’s selective attention suggests she may only be inclined to promote anticorruption efforts when they advantage her politically and may be inclined to subvert those efforts when they disadvantage her.
- Second, Congresswoman Fujimori’s approach to her father’s incarceration — in particular her seeming willingness to pardon him — is of grave concern. This point straddles the line between the Congresswoman’s own record and her treatment of her father’s legacy; it reflects on both her record in overlooking corrupt acts by those close to her and her symbolic stance as her father’s heir apparent. In 2012, Congresswoman Fujimori (then a private citizen) tried to secure a humanitarian pardon for her father. That by itself is not much of a concern: it’s what many children would do for their parents in that situation. Much more troubling is Congresswoman Fujimori’s politicized reaction to the failure of that effort; she accused President Humala of making an intentionally political decision in order to “debilitate Fujimorism.” Further, before Keiko Fujimori had formally announced her 2011 presidential campaign, she vowed to pardon her father if she were elected, saying her “hand [would] not tremble” to do so, and she visited him in prison during that campaign for advice. In the current election cycle she has said she would not pardon her father— a shrewd political move — but given the apparent support among Fujimorists (and in particular the right-wing “Albertistas”) for pardoning the ex-president, it seems likely she would either pardon him outright or exert pressure on prosecutors and the courts to have his convictions overturned.
- Third, Congresswoman Fujimori has failed to distance herself adequately from the corrupt policies of her father’s presidency. Every politician whose support is built on the policies of his or her predecessor must reckon with that predecessor’s legacy. But the fact that Congresswoman Fujimori has built her political career (in part) on the currency of her name means the public can and should expect more from her than they would of an average candidate. Admittedly, Congresswoman Fujimori has taken actions to distance herself from her father this election cycle (see here and here). She says that his administration’s corruption was “very painful for the country,” and that she would fight “small and big corruption” if elected. She has also taken the step of expelling certain old-guard Fujimorist members from her party — a move that, on the surface, seems like a good sign. However, her actions also betray a desire to pass the blame and a penchant for politically convenient behavior. In that speech addressing corruption in her father’s administration, Congresswoman Fujimori highlighted the fact that other presidential administrations have faced corruption allegations — hardly an excuse for her father’s behavior. She also continues to call her father’s corrupt acts “errors” rather than crimes, and she called his biggest mistake keeping on his spy master, Vladimiro Montesinos — not her father’s actual misdeeds. Further, there is little evidence that her decision to exclude old-line Fujimorists was done for corruption-related reasons, rather than election-related ones.
Taken together, these factors bode poorly for the ethics of a Keiko Fujimori presidency. The problem is not her parentage, but rather her apparent refusal to fully acknowledge the extent of wrongdoing in her father’s administration, and her disturbing willingness to squelch anticorruption investigations for political reasons. That said, I should note that two other presidential candidates — former Presidents Alan Garcia and Alejandro Toledo — have worse corruption track records than Congresswoman Fujimori (see here and here). And corruption is obviously not the only thing voters should concern themselves with when they enter the voting booth. Improving the economy, fighting drug trafficking, and promoting general public safety are all admirable goals. However, voters should consider the legacy of Alberto Fujimori’s presidency when they cast their ballot next month. While it would be wrong to hold Congresswoman Fujimori responsible for the sins of her father, her actions have suggested she may well repeat his mistakes.