By Gideon Long
In the first week of this year, Peru’s Keiko Fujimori posted a family photograph on Twitter showing her seated next to her father Alberto, the country’s authoritarian former president. To Alberto’s left was Keiko’s younger brother Kenji, his arm affectionately slung around his father’s shoulder.
For all the world the Fujimoris look like the happiest of families: relaxed, united and enjoying the new year. But events last week have shown how the camera sometimes lies.
The sibling rivalry that has simmered beneath the surface of Peruvian politics for months has finally exploded. Keiko, leader of Peru’s main opposition party, accused her brother of trying to buy votes in Congress. Kenji, who resigned from the party this month saying it lacked moral authority, said his sister harbors “a criminal attitude”. While his children clash, 79-year-old Alberto, the “padrino” of the family, sits at home having been released from jail. It is like a story line from one of Latin America’s infamously over-the-top soap operas.
The rupture between the Fujimori siblings can be traced back to the last presidential election in 2016. Kenji did not vote in the knife-edge second round, which Keiko lost by a whisker.
“Until then, Kenji had been a loyal follower of his sister, helping her to bring in votes,” said David Sulmont, a political scientist at the Catholic University in Peru. “But after that he was gradually excluded from her decision making inner circle.”
In December last year the dam broke. In an impeachment vote against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Kenji abstained, taking nearly a dozen members of his sister’s party with him. That was enough to ensure Mr Kuczynski survived.
Three days later, Mr Kuczynski pardoned Alberto Fujimori, freeing him from jail halfway through a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses. Mr Kuczynski said he took the decision on humanitarian grounds but it looked like payback: the president secured Kenji’s backing in the impeachment vote while Kenji won his father’s freedom. Keiko, it seemed, was out-foxed.
Last week the balance of power shifted again. On Tuesday, Keiko’s followers released secretly recorded videos, which they said proved that Kenji tried to buy votes in Congress in exchange for political influence. Keiko took to Twitter to express her “deep disappointment”.
“I’m even more sorry that my own brother is involved in these practices, that do so much damage to us as Peruvians and as a family,” she wrote.
Congress is considering lifting Kenji’s parliamentary immunity so he can be investigated over the videos. Just when he seemed to be emerging from his sister’s shadow and making his own political career, she appears to have outmanoeuvred him.
“It’s a disaster for Kenji, there’s no other word for it,” said Gustavo Gorriti, a Peruvian journalist who has chronicled the fortunes of the Fujimoris since the 1990s.
In personality, the Fujimori siblings are night and day. Keiko is a steely, experienced politician. Aged 42, the oldest of Alberto’s four children, she was flung into politics in 1994 when her father and mother divorced and she replaced her mother as first lady, aged just 19.
In contrast Kenji, the youngest of the four siblings at 37, seems naive. True to his Japanese family roots, he loves anime. On his Twitter feed he depicts himself as an axe-wielding caped crusader, ready to take on the world.
A self-confessed nerd, he posts cartoons of himself clutching a light sabre and dressed as a character from Kill Bill. He refers to his small band of followers in Congress as his “avengers”.
That air of innocence has endeared him to many Peruvians, sick of the dark arts of their politicians. A poll in January suggested Kenji was significantly more popular than his sister. “He’s not very eloquent. He doesn’t make great public speeches, but when he ran for Congress he was the most voted candidate on the Fujimorista list,” said Mr Sulmont.
The fratricidal war between the Fujimoris is not over. For now, Keiko is on top but she faces serious corruption allegations.
Last month, a former executive from Odebrecht said the disgraced Brazilian construction company donated $1.2 to her political campaign in 2011. She denies the charges. For Kenji, the future looks bleak.
His ally Mr Kuczynski resigned on Wednesday after a long fight over similar corruption charges. On Friday, Martín Vizcarra was sworn in as president promising a new start for Peru.
“Kenji needs to follow the example of some of those characters from the comic books he loves so much,” Mr Gorriti said. “He needs to retreat metaphorically to the mountains, regroup and try to come back stronger. We’ll have to see if he can be the comeback kid.”