Son of Jewish Refugee Has Narrow Lead in Peru's Presidential Election

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's rival is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of a former president imprisoned for corruption, organized crime and the killing of opponents by death squads.

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Presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski celebrating election results in Lima, Peru yesterday.
Presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski celebrating election results in Lima, Peru yesterday.Credit: Martin Bernetti/AFP

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the son of a Jewish refugee from the Nazis, had a narrow lead in Peru's presidential election on Monday as results trickled in from remote parts of the Andean nation.

Kuczynski's rival, Keiko Fujimori, is the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption, organized crime and the killing of opponents by death squads.

With nearly 93 percent of polling stations counted by Monday morning, the 77-year-old Kuczynski had 50.3 percent of the votes compared to 49.7 percent for Fujimori.

While votes from Peru's hinterland, where support for Fujimori is strongest, could take days to come in, Kuczynski supporters were optimistic they'd prevail after two unofficial quick counts showed him winning by at least 1 percentage point. While that is within the statistical margin of error of the counts, the pollsters have a track record of accuracy.

Addressing cheering supporters from the balcony of his campaign headquarters, the former World Bank economist urged them to be vigilant against fraud at the ballot box but otherwise sounded as if he had already been declared the winner.

Fujimori, however, has shown no sign of conceding defeat.

"We're going to wait with prudence because all night votes will be coming in from the provinces, from abroad and from the rural voters of deep Peru," she said.

Kuczynski, who briefly served as prime minister of Peru between 2005 and 2006, is the son of a Jewish doctor from Germany who fled the Nazis and his Swiss-French wife.

Maxime Kuczynski, the candidate's father, was born in Posen, Poland, and moved to Berlin with his parents when he was a baby. He received his professorship in 1924, after serving in the German army in World War I.

After fleeing Germany in 1933 for Peru, he became a noted pathologist and tropical disease expert in his adoptive country and was instrumental in the establishment of the country's public health service.

The son Pedro, better known as PPK, spent many years in the United States working for both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund before returning to Peru as head pf the country's central bank.

He served as Minister of Energy and Mines in the early 1980s under President Fernando Belaúnde Terry, and as Minister of Economy and Finance and Prime Minister under President Alejandro Toledo in the 2000s.

Kuczynski's Jewish roots have not been an issue during the election campaign, though Fujimori has tried to depict him as part of the white elite establishment that has traditionally overlooked the needs of the poor.

Fujimori, who served as first lady in her father's administration after her parents' divorce, has tried to contain her rival's rise by creating a distance from her father's crimes, even signing a pledge not to pardon him if elected.

At the same time, she's vowed to bring back the "iron hand" style of government for which many still revere the elder Fujimori, who is credited with taming Maoist Shining Path rebels as well as the country's hyperinflation.

Instead of rebels, Keiko Fujimori promised to wield an iron fist against crime, a top voter concern. Among her proposals: build jails in high-altitude prisons in the Andes to punish and isolate dangerous criminals.

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