Army Officer Heads Into Runoff in Peru

A gruff, polarizing retired army officer who courted Peru's poor and terrified its rich with promises to redistribute the country's wealth appeared on Monday to be headed for a presidential runoff.

The 43-year-old military man, Ollanta Humala, called on "all Peruvians" after Sunday's vote to "join up with this movement to transform Peru."

But a close battle for second place left unanswered whom Humala would likely face in the second round — pro-business former congresswoman Lourdes Flores or Alan Garcia, a center-left ex-president.

With 59 percent of the votes tallied, official results gave Humala 28.1 percent, Flores 26.4 percent and Garcia 25.2 percent.

Since no single candidate won a majority, the top two vote-getters will meet in late May or early June in a runoff.

The early vote tally tended toward urban areas where Flores' support is strongest. Humala's political base is the country's Indian and mestizo majority, especially Quechua-speaking highlanders who've been discriminated against for centuries by the country's European-descended political elite.

Garcia's backing, by contrast, is equally divided among city and country. His Aprista party is the country's best organized.

A scientific but unofficial vote sample from the respected election watchdog group Transparencia gave Humala 29.9 percent of the vote, with Flores barely edging Garcia 24.4 percent to 24.3 percent. The projection was based on results from 928 voting tables and had an error margin of less than 1 percent.

A victory by Humala could tilt this Andean nation leftward. Flores and Garcia vow to generally maintain free-market policies that have generated economic growth averaging 5.5 percent the past four years but haven't created enough jobs for poor Peruvians.

The country's poverty level hovers just above 50 percent.

Humala has instilled fear, especially among Peru's middle and upper classes, by identifying with Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's militantly anti-U.S. president.

When he and his wife went to vote in an upper-class district on Sunday, hundreds of hostile protesters trapped them for nearly an hour and taunted them with chants of "Assassin" and "You're the same as Chavez." A few threw rocks.

Many Peruvians resent Humala's populist campaign as opportunistic and incendiary_ Humala belongs to a high-profile mestizo clan of avowed racists who believe Peru's "copper-colored" majority should have superior status over whites. And though he insists he does not share his relatives' views, they have benefited him nevertheless.

The "assassin" chants were an apparent reference to allegations that Humala committed human rights abuses in 1992 as the commander of a counterinsurgency base in Peru's eastern jungle, charges he denies.

Humala's image as a stern military man who will fight crime and punish the corrupt has been a powerful factor in his swift public rise. So have his promises to raise taxes on foreign companies, spend more on the poor and rewrite Peru's constitution to strip power from what he last week called "a fascist dictatorship of the economically powerful."

Humala openly admires the 1968-75 leftist dictatorship of Gen. Juan Velasco, who took over Peru's media and expropriated land from wealthy Peruvians as part of a largely agrarian reform.

Humala's fomenting of an indigenous backlash against descendants of Peru's European conquistadors galvanized the same sort of support that Evo Morales amassed in successfully winning election in December as Bolivia's first Indian president .

"In a country where most citizens suffer from racism, elections become an opportunity for them to take revenge," said human rights activist Wilfredo Ardito.

The 56-year-old Garcia, whose 1985-90 administration ended with a bloody insurgency and the economy in shambles, has warned that to embrace Humala would be to launch Peru "into a void."

But he was more preoccupied after Sunday's vote with the 46-year-old Flores, the first woman to make a serious run for Peru's presidency.

Garcia insisted his internal tally had him in second place. But Flores, addressing her supporters at a late-night rally in Lima's posh San Isidro district, asked Garcia to "have the greatness" to recognize he's been knocked out of the race.