LIMA, Peru – A fiery nationalist who has rattled Peru's elite seemed assured of a spot in Peru's presidential runoff, but the race for second place remained too close to call Tuesday.
With about 80 percent of the vote counted from Sunday's election, Ollanta Humala led with 30.3 percent compared to 24.9 percent for center-left ex-president Alan Garcia and 24 percent for pro-business former congresswoman Lourdes Flores.
Elections officials cautioned that it could be days before a definitive outcome was released. Since no single candidate won a majority, the top two finishers will meet in late May or early June in a runoff.
Flores practically declared victory over Garcia on Sunday night, but elections officials cautioned that the early vote favored ballots cast in cities, where Flores is stronger than either of her opponents.
And Garcia, whose 1985-90 presidency saddled Peru with crippling hyperinflation, said his party's internal polls showed him beating Flores by 1 percentage point.
Humala has instilled fear in some, especially among Peru's middle and upper classes, by promising to redistribute the country's wealth more fairly and by identifying with Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's militantly anti-U.S. president.
The 43-year-old former army officer'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.
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. But many analysts believe Garcia has a better chance of defeating Humala given his more leftist orientation.
Garcia's backing is equally divided among city and country; his Aprista party is the country's best organized.
In an interview Monday with the Venezuela-based television station Telesur, Humala accused his opponents in Peru of distorting his message.
He accused the media in Lima of speaking of "nationalizations, expropriations and freedom of the press being compromised, but I've never said these things. Instead, I reiterate that we have a complete respect from freedom of expression ... and we reject any attempts to expropriate private property."
Many Peruvians resent Humala's populist campaign as incendiary — Humala belongs to a high-profile clan who believe Peruvians with Indian blood should have superior status over whites. He insists he does not share his relatives' views.
Humala also rejects allegations that he committed human rights abuses in 1992 as the commander of a counterinsurgency base in Peru's eastern jungle.