Son of Holocaust Survivor Wins Peru Elections by Slim Margin

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, former World Bank economist, beats Keiko Fujimori by less than 2 percent of the votes.

Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski waves to followers from his house, in Lima, Peru, June 6, 2016.
Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski waves to followers from his house, in Lima, Peru, June 6, 2016. Credit: Guadalupe Pardo, Reuters

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist and the son of a Holocaust survivor, won the majority of votes in the country's closest presidential contest in five decades, Peruvian electoral authorities said Thursday. His rival Keiko Fujimori has yet to concede however.

Four days after voting, the electoral board said that all ballots had been processed and Kuczynski had won 51.1 percent compared to 49.9 percent for the daughter of imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

Supporters immediately celebrated outside Kuczynski's campaign headquarters while the apparent President-elect sent a brief message on Twitter thanking his countrymen.

"Now it's time to work together for the future of our country," he wrote.

Some ballots representing up to 50,000 votes remain in dispute but experts say it's almost impossible for Fujimori to make up the roughly 40,000 vote difference to overtake Kuczynski.

Fujimori was the favorite to win the runoff but lost ground in the final stretch as fellow conservative Kuczynski warned voters that the corruption and criminality associated with her father's authoritarian rule could return.

The son of a French teacher and a German Jewish doctor who fled the Nazis, Kuczynski was educated at Oxford and Princeton, and lived for years in exile in the U.S., where he worked as an investment banker.

He is related to the legendary French director Jean-Luc Godard, and his wife is a cousin of the Oscar-winning actress Jessica Lange. In his youth, he was a concert flautist, and he claims that Mick Jagger invited him to join the Rolling Stones on stage at a recent concert in Lima.

The former prime minister, two-time economy minister, and minister of energy is a strictly orthodox economic liberal - even if during the campaign he showed openness to ideas that he once demonized, including renegotiation of contracts with energy multinationals.

While he campaigned on his high-level experience, he had difficulty connecting with Peru's Andean poor. Tarred by some as a "gringo" from abroad, in the first round of the election he won just 21 per cent of the vote, far behind Fujimori's 40 per cent. Five years earlier, he made it only to third place - then supported Fujimori against the left-wing populist Humala.

Kuczynski has pledged to ease investment restrictions with an eye to bolstering Peru's economy, which he sees as too dependent on ore exports to China, and has called for the development of new market sectors, including agriculture and tourism.

But it wasn't his platform that won him the election, rather a unified opposition determined to keep Fujimori out of power. Leftist Veronica Mendoza, who finished third in the initial vote, threw her support behind a broad-based coalition backing Kuczynski.

During the campaign, the 41-year-old Fujimori argued that Kuczynski's advanced age was a hindrance. His answer: While for Fujimori the presidency would be her first job, for him, it was likely to be the last - and he was willing to give his all.

His promise: "I will work for Peruvians even if it's the last thing I do in my life."

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