Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo bump fists. (AP)

Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo bump fists. (AP)

Contrasting Platforms in Peru's Presidential Runoff

By Holly K. Sonneland

Given the polarized race, this bicentennial election will be anything but a celebration. AS/COA Online previews the platforms of Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori.

Peru’s 2021 elections were meant to be a celebration: the next president will be sworn in on July 28, which this year will mark the country’s bicentennial. After five tumultuous years, the country was cautiously looking forward to a new era.

Those hopes came crashing down on April 11, when two of the most polarizing candidates—leftist political novice Pedro Castillo and right-wing political heiress Keiko Fujimoricame out on top in the first round to make it into the June 6 runoff. This is first run at the presidency for Castillo, an elementary school teacher and union leader who’s never held elected office, and the third for Fujimori, who, as the daughter of disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori, became the country’s first lady at age 19 and was later elected to Congress.

While in many races voters say they’re choosing the lesser of two evils, that dynamic has taken on an almost existential dimension in Peru. Swathes of voters fear both Castillo’s socialist rhetoric and his too-close-for-comfort proximity to the Marxist Shining Path guerrillas, as well as the ruthless and authoritarian tendencies of Fujimori and criminal administration of her father. That said, what might deter some voters is what draws others. Many of Castillo’s supporters are drawn to him precisely because he comes from outside the Lima-based political establishment. Fujimori’s supporters, meanwhile, see her as a known quantity who will be more likely to maintain some sort of status quo, albeit one that is far from stable.

The uncertainty has sent the Peruvian sol on a rollercoaster during the campaign, and the currency hit a new historic low against the U.S. dollar on May 26.

Castillo’s populist platform

The former teacher is running on the ticket of Free Peru, a party founded by Vladimir Cerrón, a polarizing figure who was twice elected governor of Junín before he was removed from office and convicted of corruption in 2019. Much of Castillo’s campaign is defined by trying to strike a balance between Cerrón’s even farther left ideologies and the popular consensus. After delays in getting specific with campaign pledges, Castillo presented a governance plan for his first 100 days in a document edited by Cerrón. The plan presents seven main proposals, notably a “relaunch of the popular economy” that in the medium term proposes a mixed economy where “monopolies and oligopolies will be more actively regulated” and contracts that offer tax breaks to large companies will be renegotiated.

The proposal also pledges “gas for all” by building a national gas pipeline and asserts that “making gas widely available must be a policy of the state,” but it does not mention specific actions or regulations related to private enterprise. Castillo spooked markets on April 13 when he said, “The gas of the Camisea [Gas Project] is for all Peruvians. … We need to nationalize gold, silver, uranium, copper, lithium.” Nine days later, he did an about-face, and said he’d never promised to nationalize anything. Along with gas, Castillo also says internet access should be a guaranteed right.

A cornerstone of his plan is his proposal to reform the 1993 Constitution, implemented by Fujimori’s father the year following his infamous self-coup (autogolpe) in which he dissolved the country’s legislature and suspended civil liberties. The degree to which Castillo will be able to make changes, however, would be limited by current rules, which say all reforms must be approved by Congress, where neither he nor Fujimori will have a working majority among the 10 parties seated. As such, Castillo’s plan says his administration “will push” for a referendum.

Castillo also plans to create a Science and Technology Ministry, the first task would be to greatly reduce coronavirus contagion, which continues to batter Peru, the country which in April 2021 had the highest rate of excess mortality in the world, according to The Economist.

Fujimori’s security-focused platform

In contrast to Castillo’s pledge to rewrite Peru’s Constitution, Fujimori defends it and her platform talks largely about returning to the spirit of the Magna Carta instituted by her father. The governance plan of her party, Popular Force, is more detailed and expansive than Free Peru’s, coming in at 90 pages compared to 15. It’s ordered around 10 proposals, the first of which is public order and citizen security—including a line about protecting the rights of and “restoring respect for” police officers. The security-focused priority is in line with her promise to bring a “demodura—a play on democracy and the hardline (mano dura) authoritarian ruling style for which her father is known. Her plan mentions “respect” for and “valuation” of environmental and indigenous rights, but there are no specific policy proposals to better protect either.

Fujimori, who spent 16 months in pretrial detention in 2019 and 2020 on charges of money laundering and running a criminal organization within her party, also proposes to build more prisons to reduce overcrowding and offer more low-level offenders probation while awaiting trial. She also advocates for more community policing.

On the economic front, Fujimori proposes to reactivate the economy by the usual means (e.g. job creation, poverty reduction, balanced budget), but via a decentralized approach with more local management of state resources—a strategy she and Castillo share. Her platform pledges reforms to the pension system and state revenues by increasing formality and widening the tax base. Although she’s seen as the more economically minded candidate, the cost of her proposed government stimulus programs would amount to almost 3 percent of GDP in one year, according to analysts. Peru’s public debt rate stands at about 35 percent of GDP, one of the lower rates in Latin America.


The candidates are running essentially neck and neck in polls, though Castillo arguably has the edge. Fujimori tends to poll better on how she’d handle of the economy, but her anti-vote is stronger than that of Castillo. But she has been able to improve her numbers over the course of the runoff campaign, crucially in Peru’s interior regions and among lower-middle income voters. Castillo, meanwhile, remains strong in the south and center of the country.

All that said, a number of unknowns could tip the competition in either candidate’s favor. The race has been particularly volatile, due in no small part to low levels of enthusiasm and support, which mean trends are more susceptible to vicissitudes. In particular, it remains to be seen in polls how voting might be affected by a May 23 massacre that left 16 dead in Peru’s interior and is attributed to a Shining Path-linked group.


The next president will take the reins from Francisco Sagasti, a congressman who has been serving as interim president after Congress removed Martín Vizcarra from office in November 2020. Vizcarra himself will be sworn in as the congressperson who snagged the most votes in the election and will join the new session as part of the We Are Peru party. The next legislative session begins the day before the presidential inauguration on July 27.

Neither presidential candidate faces an easy scenario in office, as many anticipate that the dysfunctional tug-of-war between the executive and legislature that plagued the last term will continue. There are 10 parties coming into the new legislative session, of which Free Peru will have the biggest bloc with 37 seats, but will still be a long way from any type of majority in the 130-member unicameral Congress. Popular Force will be the second biggest with 24 seats. Three parties with seats are planning to caucus with Popular Force, while only one—Verónika Mendoza’s Together for Peru—plans to do so with Free Peru. Another four parties remain untethered.

Due to a reform that passed during the last session, congresspeople are limited to one term, so the incoming session, besides being fractured, will also be relatively inexperienced, and many parties are new with little-defined platforms. With so many vying factions and lack of legislative chops, hopes for a productive legislature are low.

Beyond legislation, the blocs will be important if and when the question of impeachment—or technically a declaration of “moral incapacity” as happened in the case of Vizcarra in November 2020—should come up. In such a situation, Fujimori would have an edge over Castillo as president in that she has more established ties to the country’s media and business community, which could bolster her position in the face of weak broad-based popular support. However, the case against Fujimori, along with 33 others being prosecuted by the Public Ministry, is ongoing and in pretrial proceedings. In March, the federal prosecutor on the case asked Fujimori to face a 30-year sentence. Though Fujimori would enjoy a degree of legal immunity should she win the presidency per the Constitution, she was charged for her crimes before her term started, and so it would be up the courts, which in recent years have declined to rule on the fate of the presidency, to set a legal precedent. That said, the case will still proceed against Fujimori’s co-defendants, one of whom is her husband.