With voters 'fed up of politicians,' Peru's election is wide open

LIMA (Reuters) - In the popularity contest to become Peru’s next president, nobody is winning.

FILE PHOTO: Peru's presidential candidates Yonhy Lescano of Accion Popular party, Daniel Salaverry of Somos Peru party, Julio Guzman of Partido Morado party, Rafael Santos of Peru Patria Segura party and Rafael Lopez Aliaga of Renovacion Popular party are seen on stage after participating in a presidential candidates debate, in Lima, Peru March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda/Pool/File Photo

The Andean country’s voters, tired of years of political turmoil and corruption, are split as never before over who to vote for when polls open next Sunday.

That has left the election race in the world’s number two copper producer wide open, weighing on markets and the sol currency. There are 18 candidates, half a dozen of whom could reach the likely second round run-off.

“It is unprecedented in the history of Peru... that with so few days until the elections the main candidates have such low levels of voter support,” said Jeffrey Radzinsky, a lawyer and governance expert in Lima.

In the lead is Yonhy Lescano who opinion polls indicate has just 12.1% of support. Lescano is a social conservative who has said he wants fairer wealth distribution.

He is polling just ahead of liberal economist Hernando de Soto, leftist Verónika Mendoza, former soccer goalkeeper George Forsyth and conservative Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori.

If no single candidate gets over 50% of the votes on Sunday then the top two will go to a head-to-head on June 6.

Peru is coming off the back of one of its worst political crises in recent years. In November, President Martin Vizcarra was impeached over a corruption investigation that is still ongoing. His successor resigned days later amid deadly protests.

The country, on a par with Brazil at 94th in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, was also rocked earlier this year by a major scandal over preferential access to COVID-19 vaccines, which led to several ministers being fired.

Interim President Francisco Sagasti, who is not running, has restored calm, but many voters say they have lost faith in politics and the traditional political elite. Almost all Peru’s presidents were impeached or probed for graft over the last three decades.

“There is skepticism and a lack of credibility in all politicians, there is not one who tells you the truth,” said Rosario Chávez, a housewife shopping in a crowded Lima market.

Sharpening that anger now is the worst economic crisis in over three decades, a stalled vaccine campaign, and a painful second wave of coronavirus infections, with hospitals saturated.

“The Peruvian voter is more than fed up with politicians,” said political analyst Fernando Tuesta.

The uncertainty has hit the local sol currency, which is trading at historically low levels against the dollar, and had already been impacted by declining global risk appetite and fears over the pandemic.

Sunday will also see congressional elections for all 130 national lawmakers. The vote is expected to result in a highly fragmented legislature, a dynamic that has created a challenge for Peruvian presidents in recent years.

“It is not going to be easy,” said Tuesta.

Raúl Hernández, a retiree walking in downtown Lima, said that no matter who got into power there would likely be more of the same corruption.

“I do not believe in politicians, because they present themselves one way to get into power, and then being in power the bribes begin,” he said. “We want new people, ones who are not muddied by politics.”

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O’Brien