Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peru`s disgraced ex-leader

Smiling broadly in a white shirt or broad-brimmed peasant`s hat, Keiko Fujimori dances for the crowds at election rallies. But it is her name that most grabs Peruvian voters` attention.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 03, 2016, 10:48 AM IST

Lima: Smiling broadly in a white shirt or broad-brimmed peasant`s hat, Keiko Fujimori dances for the crowds at election rallies. But it is her name that most grabs Peruvian voters` attention.

She came of age during the violent period of her father Alberto Fujimori`s rule in the 1990s which destroyed his marriage to her mother and landed him in jail for crimes against humanity.

His US-educated daughter, known to Peruvians simply as "Keiko", took over as first lady at the age of 19.

Now 41, she is, like her father, a divisive conservative figure. But she leads the polls for Sunday`s presidential runoff election against her opponent, center-right economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

She has spent the past five years touring the country, meeting voters in preparation for her bid to be its first female president.

"With this energy and this passion we can solve the country`s immediate problems," she said at the closing campaign rally of her Fuerza Popular party.

"We represent change for our country," she said, on stage along with her American husband Mark Villanella and their two daughters.

"She has had quite a high level of support during her whole political career. For many people it is surprising that she enjoys such popularity," said Maria Luisa Puig, an analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy.

Alberto Fujimori`s dark decade in power from 1990-2000 lives on in the memory of many Peruvians.

But he won the love of many for stamping out the Shining Path, a communist guerrilla group that carried out attacks and kidnappings.

"Many of Keiko`s supporters remember her father`s tough line on terrorism and think that she can be similarly tough on crime," Puig said.Peruvians refer to Keiko affectionately though inaccurately as "the Chinese" -- "La China".

The Fujimoris are actually one of thousands of families of Japanese descent in Peru following waves of economic immigration.

Alberto Fujimori, now 77, is in jail for crimes against humanity. A court held him responsible for massacres of people he said were terrorists in 1991 and 1992, including one in a university.

Keiko misjudged voters` sensibilities when she pledged during her last election campaign in 2011 to pardon her father.

That made her lose the election to leftist Ollanta Humala.

"She is a monster," said one voter, 23-year-old trainee teacher Elizabeth Diaz, at a campaign rally in support of Kuczynski.

"Her father did a lot of harm to Peru. He killed students."

This time round Keiko has been more cautious about her father`s legacy.

She has promised to defend human rights.Keiko`s mother Susana Higuchi accused Alberto Fujimori`s men of torturing her during his rule. She fled the presidential palace and divorced him in 1994.

Keiko sided with her father and has rejected her mother`s claims as "myths."

Now, her supporters want her to follow in her father`s footsteps.

"I don`t believe everything they say about her," said one supporter, Miguel Zevallos. "She will fight and she will look after poor people."

Keiko Fujimori has vowed to invest in infrastructure for poor communities and grant tax breaks to small companies.

She has promised to fight crime by putting more police on the streets and building more prisons.

Ahead of the first round, opponents tried to get her excluded from the election for alleged vote-buying.

The electoral board dismissed the case against her but disqualified several other candidates.

As the second round approached, a fresh corruption scandal struck the secretary general of Fuerza Popular, Joaquin Ramirez.

Thousands of her opponents marched in Lima five days before the vote, waving banners reading: "Fujimori never again".