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LIMA, Peru – The daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori held a strong lead in preliminary results from the first round of Peru's presidential election and appeared headed to a showdown with another center-right candidate in a June runoff.
With 40 percent of the ballots counted late Sunday, Fujimori had 39 percent of the vote, while former World Bank economist Pedro Kuczynski held 24 percent. Leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, who had made a late surge in pre-election polls, was in third at 17 percent.
Final results were not expected until sometime Monday, but Kuczynski's supporters celebrated in the streets outside his campaign headquarters in Lima after two unofficial quick counts indicated he would edge out Mendoza for the right to face Fujimori on June 5. Such counts have been reliable predictors of results in previous Peruvian elections.
The center-right Fujimori was the runaway front-runner for months and looked poised to outdo even the most-optimistic first round scenarios in polls published on the eve of voting.
But she will face an uphill battle in the second round because of how polarizing a figure former President Fujimori remains among Peruvians.
While her father is remembered fondly by many, especially in the long-overlooked countryside, for defeating Maoist-inspired Shining Path rebels and taming hyperinflation, he is detested by large segments of the urban middle class for human rights abuses and his order for the military to shut down Congress. Almost half of Peruvians surveyed said they would never vote for anyone associated with the former leader and thousands took to the streets a week ago to warn that Keiko Fujimori's election could bring back authoritarian rule.
In a bid to project a more moderate image, Fujimori promised during her campaign not to pardon her father, who is serving out a 25-year sentence for authorizing death squads during his decade-long rule starting in 1990. On Sunday night, she told supporters it was time to bury the past.
"Peruvians want reconciliation and don't want to fight anymore," she told supporters while standing on a truck parked outside a luxury Lima hotel.
If Kuczynski holds on to the No. 2 spot, it will ensure Peru continues along a free-market path after Mendoza's rise in the polls spooked investors. It also represents another setback for South America's left, which after sweeping into power across much of the region during the past decade's commodities boom has suffered a string of electoral losses in Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela.
After finishing a strong third in the 2011 election, Kuczynski threw his support behind Keiko Fujimori in that year's runoff. He later said he regretted that decision but considered it necessary in trying to prevent the election of leftist Ollanta Humala, who held close ties to socialist Venezuela and had led an army rebellion in his youth. Once in office, however, Humala kept up a pro-business policy framework. The constitution barred him from seeking a second, consecutive term.
Kuczynski, 77, is now urging Peruvians to turn the page on the widespread corruption and human rights violations associated with the Alberto Fujimori years. But with an elite pedigree, heavily accented Spanish and until recently a U.S. passport, he may face a hard time connecting with regular Peruvians, especially in rural areas where the older Fujimori is still revered.
Sunday's elections were marred by the worst guerrilla attack in Humala's presidency. On Saturday, Shining Path rebels killed eight soldiers and two civilians as they were traveling in a caravan to a remote village to provide security during the vote.
Maritza Sacsara, one of the many rural voters who cast votes for Fujimori, called her "a born leader" and credited the candidate with campaigning fiercely in small towns and villages often ignored by Peruvian politicians.
Fujimori's Popular Force party secured an estimated 60 seats in the 130-member congress, while five other parties split the remaining seats.
Sunday's elections provided notable defeats for traditional politicians. Two former presidents, Alejandro Toledo and Alan Garcia, finished near the bottom of the 10-candidate field, while the congressional slate for Garcia's almost century-old APRA party barely got by the minimum 5 percent threshold to hold onto its legal standing.
Adding bitterness to the race, two candidates, including Fujimori's strongest rival, were barred from the race by Peru's electoral tribunal for campaign violations or technicalities, decisions questioned by the Organization of American States.
Associated Press writers Rodrigo Abd in Peru's Ayacucho region and Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.
Franklin Briceno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/franklinbriceno. His work can be found at: http://bigstory.ap.org/author/franklin-briceno .