Keiko Fujimori loses Peru’s election, remains force to be reckoned with


CHICAGO, Ill. — Keiko Fujimori lost Peru’s presidential election on June 3. But don’t expect the dynamic, if difficult, Keiko — age 36, female, Gen Xer, of Japanese descent, mother of two toddlers, spouse of an American and daughter of a former president, who is now incarcerated — to fade into the shadows of Latin American politics.

Keiko — as she’s known universally in Peru — has been an unexpected candidate and a force that likely altered Peruvian national politics for years to come. Given her age and the fact that she narrowly lost with almost half of the total votes cast, she will be someone to reckon with for a long time.

If she had been elected, Fujimori would have been Peru’s first woman president and one of four today in Latin America — and one of only seven in the region’s history. Like Laura Chinchilla in Costa Rica, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, her gender would have influenced her agenda. But so would have her youth.

At the presidential debate last week with her second round opponent — and Peru’s new president — Ollanta Humala, her opening statement had a greeting in Quechua — the language of the descendants of the Incas in the Andes of Peru. And her closing statement concluded with sign language.

What’s more, Keiko appealed to the youth vote by laying out her “Mi Primera Chamba” (My First Gig) scholarship program and to the Mom vote by promising to create nutrition programs and quality education for children.

This is not just typical political pandering in Peru, but stems from who Keiko is. She allowed TV hostess Magaly to come to her home. After they chatted like two girlfriends, she gave Magaly a tour of her middle-class home. Along the way she showed off Peruvian Andean landscape paintings her imprisoned father has done in jail, and then the pair ended up in Keiko’s kitchen, where she expertly chopped vegetables for that evening’s dinner.

Defying Expectations

Keiko — as everyone calls her — has become adept at presenting herself in visuals that defy traditional expectations.

When her parents split up in a bitter divorce during her father’s presidency, Keiko, then age 19, officially became First Lady to fill in for her exiting mother’s responsibilities.

Despite ample opportunities to go anywhere for college, she headed to Boston University to earn a degree in business administration. She returned married to Mark Vito, a U.S.-born IBM consultant, who did not speak Spanish.

Without a hint of self-consciousness, Keiko projected her Japanese visage on big screens at political rallies surrounded by a sea of dark-skinned indigenous Peruvians. It was Keiko’s Magical Diversity Tour. Though her roots are Asian, she attempted to appeal to them as one of them, her racial minority physical features presenting a kindred-outsider status to the marginalized people of Peru — just as happened when her father ascended to power.

The elements of her biography don’t merely translate into images defying the status quo, they drive her fusion of a right-of-center and a populist political platform. Her ease with crossing socioeconomic and racial barriers has influenced a right-brain/left-brain, left-wing/right-wing heterodoxy that is both pragmatic and passionate.

Despite the deeply held reservations that many Peruvians have about her filial links to her father who was jailed for corruption and human rights abuses, Keiko’s implicit and explicit diversity and her messages of inclusion, helped propel her into the second and final electoral round. She beat out another former president, Alejandro Toledo, and a successful former minister of finance and economy, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski — a graduate of both Oxford and Princeton universities, no less.

Presidential Candidate Mom

Keiko was also nearly the first Latin American female president with young children and, therefore, the first high-profile role model for work-and-family flexibility. As is typical of middle-class Peruvians, she has live-in childcare help. But her fluid movement in and out of her roles as leader and mother seems remarkably seamless.

After the first-round election results were announced and Keiko was declared one of the two finalists, she handled her press conference with ease.

Afterward as she exited through the phalanx of journalists, her 18-month-old, Kaori Marcela, straddled in her left arm, Keiko took impromptu questions shouted out by journalists. As the child began to fuss, she switched from potential president of Peru to attentive mom. With a smile, Keiko said, “OK, it’s time — got to go.”

And with no apology, she left. Whatever else may come for Keiko, that’s what her multicultural country folk will remember. Keiko — young, centered and, without apologies, very much herself.

Now in her loss, she must plot out her next career move while Dad sits in jail with no chance of a pardon and her children continue to make their toddler demands, Meanwhile, she will watch as her rival takes the reins of what she had been so certain of the future destined to be hers.

She has time — a lot of it — to let things play out. Five years from now Keiko’s Magical Diversity Tour still likely to be fueled up and waiting for her to lead the way


Andrés T. Tapia, president of Diversity Best Practices, a diversity and inclusion think tank and consultancy, grew up in Lima, Peru. Twitter: @AndresTTapia

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