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Perú's presidency still in limbo as difference between candidates narrows to 0.3%

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and wife Nancy Lange, flanked by his running mates Mercedes Araoz and Martin Vizcarra.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and wife Nancy Lange, flanked by his running mates Mercedes Araoz and Martin Vizcarra.  (ap)

The nail-biter race for Peru's presidency tightened Tuesday as the daughter of imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori gained ground on her rival thanks to votes trickling in from remote rural areas and embassies abroad.

Former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki's razor-thin lead over Keiko Fujimori shrank to fewer than 51,000 votes early Tuesday morning. With tallies from nearly 97 percent of polling stations processed, Kuczynski had 50.1 percent of the votes compared with Fujimori's 49.8 percent.

While two quick counts showed Kuczynski prevailing in a tight contest, still being counted are the ballots cast by 885,000 Peruvians eligible to vote abroad, the majority living in the United States. They turned out massively for Fujimori in the 2011 election.

About 1,200 handwritten tallies of some 360,000 votes were being disputed and were sent to a special electoral board for review, Mariano Cucho, the head of Peru's electoral authority, told RPP Radio on Tuesday

Both candidates remained silent while awaiting final results even as their aides began to jockey for positions in an eventual alliance in congress, where Fujimori's Popular Force won a solid majority of 73 of 130 seats. Kuczynski's fledgling movement will have just 18, fewer than the country's main leftist alliance.

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While Kuczynski's campaign said it is ready to work with all political groups, supporters of Fujimori expressed doubt that the wounds from the final stretch of the campaign, in which Kuczynski accused Keiko Fujimori of being the harbinger of a "narco-state," could be easily healed.

"They called us drug traffickers, thieves," said Lourdes Alcorta, a congresswoman. "It's going to be difficult for us to hug them."

If Kuczynski holds onto his lead, it would be a stunning turnaround. Fujimori topped a field of 10 candidates in the first round of voting in April and consistently led Kuczynski in polls taken before Sunday's runoff.

Kuczynski, 77, managed to climb back by abandoning his above-the-fray, grandfatherly appeal and attacking his younger rival as a risk to Peru's young democracy.

Playing on memories of Alberto Fujimori's well-known ties to corruption, organized crime and death squads, for which he's serving a 25-year prison sentence, he seized on string of scandals that hobbled Fujimori in the final stretch.

The most notable was a report that one of her big fundraisers and the secretary general of her party was the target of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Peru is the world's largest producer of cocaine.

PPK, as Kuczynski is almost universally known in Peru, also benefited from a last-minute endorsement by the third-place finisher in the first round of voting, leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, the protagonist of a massive anti-Fujimori demonstration last week the likes of which Peru has not seen since the turbulent end of her father's rule 16 years ago.

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