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Leftist ex-officer tops Peru vote, heads to runoff

Peru's voters will choose between an ex-army officer who vows to redistribute the nation's wealth and the daughter of incarcerated former President Alberto Fujimori when they vote for a new president in a June runoff, official results show.

The outcome of Sunday's election — in which three less-polemical candidates collectively captured 44 percent but canceled each other out — reflects the disarray that has plagued Peruvian politics since Fujimori's 1990 emergence from obscurity.

His daughter, Keiko Fujimori, could end up beating Ollanta Humala in the June 5 runoff because, like the other major candidates, she rejects his platform of making structural changes to give the state a greater role in the economy, arguing that it would scare away foreign investors.

The ex-army lieutenant colonel also won the first round in Peru's 2006 presidential vote but was defeated in a runoff, 53 percent to 47 percent, by Alan Garcia. The vote was widely seen as a rebuff to leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had openly backed Humala.

This time, Humala distanced himself from Chavez, while Fujimori backed away from the vows to pardon her father she made two years ago when he was convicted of approving death-squad killings and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa has called the Humala-Fujimori runoff option "a choice between AIDS and terminal cancer," given perceptions of their anti-democratic tendencies.

With 75 percent of the vote counted, official results gave Humala 29.3 percent — well short of the simple majority needed to win outright.

Keiko Fujimori — whose father Peruvians alternately esteem and revile — received 22.9 percent, trailed by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a 72-year-old former World Bank economist and investment banker, with 21 percent.

In fourth was Alejandro Toledo, Peru's president from 2001-2006, with 15.2 percent. Former Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda was fifth with 10.1 percent. The rest of the vote was divided among six minor candidates.

Both Humala and Fujimori's percentages were expected to climb a bit as more results trickled in from rural areas where both ran strongly. Kuczynski did better in urban areas.

Pre-election polls had indicated either Toledo or Castaneda would defeat Humala in a second round while Kuczynski and Fujimori would have a harder time.

George Mason University political scientist Jo-Marie Burt said Sunday's outcome puts Peru on "a really terrible road and I think it shows how weak the whole political system really is." Politics in this resource-rich Andean nation have been chaotic since its traditional parties were unable to cope with civil war and hyperinflation in the late 1980s and all but dissolved.

"There is a lot to admire about Peru but its political class is not among its strongest assets," said Michael Shifter, president of the nonpartisan Inter-American Dialogue think tank. "It is a country of paradoxes and contradictions: impressively robust growth but precarious politics. In this election, the extremes came out on top."

"There was a chance to embrace a moderate, middle ground, but that opportunity slipped away," he said.

Humala has spooked foreign investors by promising to divert natural gas exports to the domestic market and obtain greater royalties from foreign investors in Peru's mineral wealth. He called his victory proof that Peruvians "want a great transformation."

Peru is a top exporter of copper, gold and silver, commodities whose rising prices have helped fuel economic growth averaging 7 percent during Garcia's tenure. But it is a growth that has hardly trickled down to the poor.

Eliminated candidate Toledo said voters simply "expressed their rage ... at having economic growth without the distribution of the benefits of that growth."

Keiko Fujimori constantly invoked her father during the campaign, running on his legacy of delivering essential services to Peru's forgotten backwater and of being tough on crime. It's a potent message in a nation of 30 million where one in three live on less than $3 a day and lack running water. The murder rate doubled under Garcia.

During her victory speech from the terrace of a downtown hotel, jubilant supporters chanted, "Chino. Chino. Chino," her father's popular nickname.

She thanked him and sought to dispel concerns of a return to authoritarian rule: "We are going to work, my dear friends, with absolute respect for democracy, press freedom, human rights and the rule of law."

Peru ranks 13th out of 17 countries in the region in terms of citizen access to social services, according to the World Bank. In the country's rural highlands, 66 percent of Peruvians live in poverty, half in extreme poverty, it says.

Kuczynski, a German immigrant's son who was economics and prime minister under Toledo, climbed into contention in the campaign's final weeks. But the perception of him as the candidate of big foreign capital hurt him.

Toledo had led in the polls until late March, when Humala overtook him. Toledo's voters also defected to Kuczynski.

Humala, 48, made promises similar to those of Keiko Fujimori: free nursery school and public education, state-funded school breakfasts and lunches, a big boost in the minimum wage, and pensions for all beginning at age 65.

He says he would respect international treaties and contracts, but many Peruvians don't believe him.

Humala, who launched a bloodless, short-lived revolt against Alberto Fujimori just before the latter fled into exile in 2000, advocates rewriting the constitution, as Chavez and his leftist allies in Bolivia and Ecuador have done.

He says it will make it easier to enact reforms, but he has pledged not to seek re-election, as Chavez and the Bolivian and Ecuadorean leaders have.

Fujimori has a rock-solid constituency thanks to her father's defeat of the Maoist-inspired Shining Path insurgency, taming of hyperinflation in the 1990s, and social agenda.

"Because of him we are free. Because of him we're at peace," said Luz Montesino, a 60-year-old bakery owner who voted at a school built during Fujimori's presidency.

Like other Fujimori voters, Montesino was not bothered by the dark, authoritarian side of the Fujimori legacy — including when he shut down Congress in 1992.

Nor do Keiko Fujimori backers seem concerned by critics' fears that her father will be the one calling the shots in her presidency.

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Associated Press writers Carla Salazar and Franklin Briceno contributed to this report.