Peruvians have 18 presidential candidates to choose from on Sunday.
CNN  — 

“Unfortunately, I have to vote and choose one, but here we can’t even choose the least bad because all of them are bad,” sighed 30-year-old photographer Abraham Medina, explaining why he’s still undecided ahead of Peru’s presidential election.

Blanca Cagua, a 25-year-old nurse, is similarly unimpressed by the country’s 18 presidential candidates.

“All they have done is to fight among themselves, we expect them to show they are capable of moving the country forward during this pandemic,” she told CNN.

Photographer Abraham Medina, 30, told CNN he thinks all of the candidates are bad.

On April 11, Peruvians are set to choose the country’s fifth president in just four years, as it reels from the highest coronavirus death rate in Latin America per capita.

But years of corruption scandals have left voters disgusted with the political class, and seemingly unimpressed with the array of candidates that includes career politicians, an eccentric ultra-conservative businessman and a former national team soccer player.

Voting is mandatory, but more than a quarter of respondents intend to leave their vote blank, don’t know who they will vote for, or won’t choose any of the candidates, according to an opinion poll published April 4 by the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) for Peruvian newspaper La Republica.

That’s a higher proportion than those that intend to vote for any of the individual candidates.

“Among this group there is a group that is bewildered, but there is another group, I would say the majority, that is upset and fed up, indignant with the current political choices that are not close to their expectations,” Hernán Chaparro, a professor of media and public opinion at University of Lima, told CNN.

Keiko Fujimori (R) came in joint first in a recent poll but is under investigation for corruption.

With none of the candidates polling over 10%, according to IEP, anything could happen.

Such a fragmented field means the top two candidates will likely end up in a runoff vote on June 6, before a winner is sworn in on July 28.

Candidates who progress to the runoff usually receive much higher levels of support, according to Chaparro, who said this year’s low voter enthusiasm for any candidate is unprecedented.

The four top-polling candidates, according to IEP, are only between 8-10% popularity, with Keiko Fujimori and Hernando de Soto tied for first place at 9.8%.

Fujimori, a right-wing conservative who has promised to focus on security issues, is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori. First elected in 1990, he fled the country in 2000 amid allegations of corruption.

Ultimately found guilty in multiple criminal trials, the 82-year-old is serving out a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses. A humanitarian pardon issued to the former president was overturned by Peru’s Supreme Court in 2019.

His daughter Keiko is the subject of a long-running corruption investigation and prosecutors recently asked a court for a 30-year jail term on charges linked to organized crime and money laundering. She has denied the allegations.

Hernando De Soto (C) is a well-known economist known for his work on the informal economy.

De Soto, 79, is a renowned economist running on a centrist ticket who served as an adviser on Keiko’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Most of the candidates are hard to place on the traditional left-right political spectrum, and the field is full of populist proposals.

Another candidate, former congressman Yonhy Lescano from the Popular Action party, who polled at 8.2%, is an economically progressive but socially conservative populist.

Also in the mix is ultra-conservative Rafael López Aliaga, who polled at 8.4%, a member of the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei who has embraced the nickname “Uncle Porky” due to his resemblance to the character from cartoon series Looney Tunes.

The presidential election is expected to go to a runoff on June 6.

Then there is former national team soccer player George Forsyth, who gave up his position as mayor of La Victoria district in Lima to run for president; and Veronika Mendoza, a 40-year-old leftist psychologist from the Andean city of Cuzco who fell just short of reaching the runoff in the 2016 election.

Peruvians will also vote for 130 congressional seats, with 20 different parties putting forward candidates.

“The parties remain fragile,” Denisse Rodriguez-Olivari, a Peruvian political scientist at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, told CNN. “They are born, they grow during one election and then they die, so they are quite ephemeral.”

Since the last election, Peru has been racked by political instability, with a string of presidents in conflict with a restive Congress made up of a large number of small political groupings, with nine parties making up the existing Congress.

Interim President Manuel Merino resigned following mass protests in November 2020.

The nation’s unstable political system crumbled spectacularly in November 2020, when the country saw a succession of three presidents in just over a week.

First Congress voted to impeach former President Martin Vizcarra, who billed himself as an anti-corruption crusader, following allegations of corruption. Vizcarra denied the allegations.

His replacement, Manuel Merino, resigned after just five days in the post under pressure from mass protests. Congressman Francisco Sagasti has acted as a caretaker president since then.

The image of Peru’s political class suffered another blow in February when it emerged that members of the elite secretly received China’s Sinopharm vaccine months before the country’s vaccination rollout started, with Vizcarra and his wife among their number.

Vizcarra said that he and his wife were vaccinated as part of the Sinopharm clinical trial, though the university conducting the trial denied they were volunteers.

Peru has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Vacunagate, as the scandal became known, combines voters’ concerns about corruption and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has recorded more than 1.6 million cases and more than 53,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Four of the current presidential candidates have tested positive for Covid-19 during the campaign.

The country’s ICU units and oxygen availability are at breaking point, but the elections are going ahead with precautionary health measures such as extra polling stations and extended voting hours to reduce crowding.

The eventual winner will have to deal with the dire economic fallout from the pandemic.

Peru’s GDP fell 11.1% in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the country has struggled to maintain consistent levels of economic growth since 2013, according to data from the World Bank.

But many Peruvians are tired of the political machinations.

“The truth is that they haven’t been able to convince us,” Carlos Cabezas Silvano told CNN. The 21-year-old will be voting for the first time for president but says he will submit a blank vote, which won’t count for any of the candidates, in a sign of protest.

“We need a well-balanced leader who could fulfill their promises. We can’t trust anyone.”

Journalist Andy Ortiz contributed reporting from Lima.