LIMA, PERU – Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, came within an inch of admitting Wednesday that she would pardon her jailed father if she is elected president in 2011.
Prodded repeatedly during a meeting with group of American journalists visiting Peru, she said she did not want to comment until her father’s bid to appeal his 25-year sentence for ordering kidnappings and killings during his tenure in the 1990s is finished. But she added twice that she hopes Mr. Fujimori “will not need to be pardoned.”
“I believe my father was innocent,” said the 34-year-old congresswoman and mother of two, exuding a calm confidence and quiet warmth. “The majority of Peruvians think my father was the best president.”
Then she reminded the group of editors that Peru’s president has the power to pardon anyone.
Although she dismissed any suggestion that her father would exert undue influence during a Keiko presidency – “I will run the country, not my father” – she made no effort to deviate from any of his policies.
Instead she doubled down on the Fujimori brand name, banking on the fact that her father’s conservative approach was – and still is – widely popular in the business community and among significant portions of Peru’s poorest people.
Bandying about the phrase “Fujimorismo,” which she defined as “free-market with a strong emphasis on social programs,” Keiko insisted that she understands the needs of poor people better than the rest of the crop of likely candidates, including the Hugo Chavez-linked populist Ollanta Humala.
Why is that?
“It’s because I travel a lot. I get to know people,” she said. “It’s because we solved their problems. They know we keep our promises.”
So, what do poor Peruvians want? Roads and schools, she said, adding that her father paved more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) of road and built more than 3,000 schools.
22 percent support for Fujimori
Perhaps echoing her father’s penchant for a tightly controlled government, she questioned President Alan Garcia’s moves to decentralize Peru’s government.
“In terms of investment, the decentralization process was not the best way to improve our government,” she said, adding that Peru’s regional governments are “not capable of spending it correctly.”
In what would have been considered a gaffe in US politics, she at one point said: “In Peru, people sometimes vote with their hearts, not their heads.”
If voting with one’s head means electing her in 2011, she betrayed no signs of apprehension that Peruvians would vote with their hearts.
As she pointed out: “Although they’ve said horrible things against my father, we still have 22 percent support.”
Matthew Clark traveled to Peru on an IRP Gatekeepers trip organized by the International Reporting Project.