LIMA (Reuters) – George Forsyth, a former professional soccer goalkeeper, is targeting Peru’s angry youth to help his candidacy at presidential elections next month, pledging to turn the page on decades of corruption scandals in the copper-rich Andean nation.
Forsyth, whose mother is a former Miss Chile and father is Peru’s ambassador to Japan, is among the front-runners for the April 11 ballot though the field is split and many voters are undecided.
The 38-year-old conservative has vowed to maintain macroeconomic stability, but also wants to curb social unrest around resource extraction by creating a “mining trust” to ensure royalties uplift local communities.
Peru’s younger generations have had enough of the cycles of corruption that have hit politicians in the world’s No. 2 two copper producer, he told Reuters at his campaign office in the upscale neighborhood of Miraflores in the capital Lima.
“My youth is a plus point, I have the energy and the drive, and I represent a fed-up generation that no longer believes in politicians,” said Forsyth, who often sports jeans and t-shirts.
“That ‘sameocracy,’ those old-school politicians, are afraid of us,” he added.
Forsyth played for Peruvian championship-winning team Alianza Lima, Peru’s national squad and as a reserve for Borussia Dortmund in Germany. He took up politics at a local level in 2010.
Fighting corruption is one of his main themes. Five former Peruvian presidents have been investigated or prosecuted for corruption in just over two decades while another committed suicide to avoid arrest over money laundering investigations.
Last year, then President Martin Vizcarra was removed from office by Congress over allegations of graft, as yet unproven. His replacement resigned less than a week later amid angry protests and another interim leader took office.
Forsyth, from the conservative National Victory party, led the presidential race in polls last year but in a fractured election he is now vying with candidates such as populist legislator Yonhy Lescano, who on Tuesday registered a lead in the latest poll, and ultra-conservative businessman Rafael Lopez Aliaga, seen as Peru’s version of Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro.
Analysts say the socially-liberal Forsyth faces a battle to remain in the top two until the April election, before a likely June 6 second round run-off.
“Voters are really fickle in Peru and they are now starting to look around at who stands the best chance of winning at this point,” said political scientist Fernando Tuesta.
‘JUST A PRETTY FACE’
Ipsos Peru and Institute of Peruvian Studies see support for the top four candidates ranging between 8.1% and 11.3%, but also highlight that with just five weeks to go until the election almost a third of voters remain undecided.
Detractors of Forsyth – who was the mayor of a populous Lima district – have nicknamed him “Ken”, after Barbie’s muscle-bound boyfriend, and say he lacks of experience to steady the ship after a turbulent year of pandemic and politics.
“He’s just a pretty face but he’s not ready,” said office worker Ruben Berrocal, 45. “What Peru needs is a president with wisdom to get us out of this crisis.”
Forsyth says however that he is exactly what Peru needs to reverse a 11% drop in its 2020 Gross Domestic Product, the worst in three decades, and restore faith in politics.
“The most important thing today is to generate a climate of stability, of trust,” he said.
Key to achieving those goals is the curbing of recurring social conflicts, mainly against the exploitation of natural resources whose benefits he says do not filter down enough the communities around them.
He proposes creating a “mining trust” funded by 20% of all the royalties and rights paid by the firms in the sector which would be jointly managed by those miners, the communities and the State.
“That way you generate a pot managed by those three actors and guarantee the development specifically of the affected communities,” he said.
He told Reuters he will also create a Ministry of Infrastructure to unlock large projects to generate up to 1.5 million short-term jobs to help the post-pandemic recovery.
His message of breaking with the past holds most resonance with Peru’s youth, who led protests last year.
“He represents a new page, he isn’t contaminated,” said Rossy Malpartida, a 32-year-old woman selling soft drinks in the street, who said she would vote for him.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Alistair Bell)