Peruvian President Candidate Gets a Grope…and a Bump in the Polls

Apr 182011
  • This photograph of candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was taken by Jairo Vega of El Correo newspaper on February 21, 2011.

  • The Facebook status is an example of election coverage on the Internet. "I study at PUCP and I think we will have for lunch 26 pots with 20.8 kilos of jerky, 20.1 kilos of wontons and 18.1 of guinea pigs.” Each food item is code for the candidates; in this case “26 Ollas”” (pots) refers to Ollanta Humala. Wantán (wontons) are Asian so that’s Fujimori. And “cuycito” (little guinea pig) is in reference to PPK’s mascot, the cuy.

  • Each one of the cartoon characters represents one of the candidates. PPK is Richie Rich, symbol of wealth and prosperity, while Jigglypuff, the Japanese character, represents Keiko Fujimori. Scooby Doo, the goofy, willing participant is Ollanta Humala.

Presidential Candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczunski is groped by an anonymous woman during a crowded campaign event. Needless to say, the image of a woman bending over and closely inspecting the presidential hopeful created quite a stir. And the photo was quite easily one of the most commented and uploaded in Peru that day.

Instead of shying away from the embarrassing moment, PPK (as Kuczynski is known) embraced the hoopla, and joined in by re-posting it on Twitter. Many political analysts credit this photo with giving him the last minute boost in the polls. Before the picture, many people didn’t really know much about the millionaire, former economic minister who was running for president. In less than two months, PPK jumped from 5th place, almost making it into the 2nd slot, which would have placed him in the run-off for president of Peru.

PPK was the one candidate who probably embraced the power of social media the most, even though all the other candidates took their campaigns online. After the elections on April 10th, someone joked that left-wing, nationalist Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori - daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori - may have won the chance to face off in a runoff in the real world, but PPK was officially president on Facebook!

A lot has to do with the way Peru is divided digitally. The capital, Lima, which houses about a third of the country, is highly connected, with a young population that lives online, and that responded well to the initiatives proposed by the PPK team in the virtual world.

And computers also became a way to circumvent the legal system. Peruvian law bans the publication of any polls a week before the elections. But in the world of Internet and cellphones, it’s impossible to keep information out, as well as to regulate it. The FB Status Update (shown in the slideshow) is the perfect example: It says: "I study at PUCP and I think we will have for lunch 26 pots with 20.8 kilos of jerky, 20.1 kilos of wontons and 18.1 of guinea pigs.”

Each food item is code for the candidates; in this case “26 Ollas”” (pots) refers to Ollanta Humala. Wantán (wontons) are Asian so that’s Fujimori. And “cuycito” (little guinea pig) is in reference to PPK’s mascot, the cuy.

The cartoon graphic found in the slideshow is another example of Internet coverage of the elections. The importance and relevance of the Internet in the coverage of news is something we’ve been working on during this Fellowship. On Election Day, the Enlace Nacional newscast did something it had never done before: live streaming video on its website. It also provided constant updates on Twitter and Facebook, with at least four people dedicated to posting online.

We didn’t get as much participation from the TV stations in the provinces as we would have wanted, but looking at the national picture, it makes sense. Our RED TV stations, for example, were so focused on their day-of coverage that posting online fell by the wayside. It simply was not a priority, unlike the team in Lima. They have come to realize the impact of a virtual presence. The next months will bring a renewed effort to drill that message in to get the complete participation of the trained stations. This is the only way Enlace Nacional can become a resource for those in Lima who tend to ignore what’s happening in the rest of the country.

Peru is now getting ready for the 2nd presidential round with concerns about what a leftist Humala government would bring considering his close ties with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. And, old wounds are being opened with the daughter of a former president who continues to be a very polarizing figure. In newsrooms here, the challenge is maintaining balance in a country where economic and regional disparities appear to have created a political divide.

That is the battle in the real world. Online, however there are already calls for people to turn in a blank vote in the run-off. If 75 percent of the ballots have no name, the election is null and void, and Peru will have to start all over again from scratch.

As for the woman in the photo? Two days before the election, a hidden-camera video was leaked online where a woman claimed she had been paid by the PPK team to grab Kuczynski. There are doubts about the veracity of the leaked video considering she is an “actress” well-known for making the rounds on the talk show circuit. Still, the woman in the photo hasn’t come forward, and who knows? Maybe, just maybe she was really only trying to get a better look.

Here's a slideshow with these and other photos of campaign coverage.