With Fujimori polarizing Peru vote, eyes on runner-up race
Franklin Briceno (Associated Press) - April 10, 2016 - 3:11pm

LIMA — The daughter of Peru's jailed former strongman is the runaway favorite to get the most votes in yesterday's election, but there's a tight race for second place and the right to face Keiko Fujimori in an expected presidential runoff.

Polls for months have shown Fujimori with a double-digit lead over her nearest rival among 10 presidential candidates, but not getting the 50 percent she would need to win outright and avoid a June 5 runoff between the two top vote-getters.

In a dead heat for second are former Wall Street investor Pedro Kuczynski and leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza.

Analysts say either might have a shot at victory in a second round of balloting because of how polarizing a figure Fujimori is among Peruvians, who either adore her father for defeating Maoist-inspired Shining Path rebels and taming hyperinflation or loathe him for human rights abuses and ordering tanks to shut down Congress in 1992.

Rural voters gathered at dawn on yesterday in the Quecha-speaking village of Iquicha, where soldiers who had slept on mattresses in the town school the night before managed the line.

Poll workers hoped to finish work early: "There's no electricity here, and we have no candles either," elections manager Miguel Cordero said.

Almost half of Peruvians say they'll never vote for anyone associated with former President Alberto Fujimori, who governed from 1990 to 2000, and is serving a 25-year sentence for authorizing death squads and corruption.

While he beat back the guerrillas, a few remain. On Saturday, suspected Shining Path rebels killed three soldiers and a driver on their way to a polling place in a mountain town, according to army officials.

In a bid to project a more moderate image, the center-right Keiko Fujimori has sworn not to pardon her father if elected.

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.

But opponents have taken to city streets by the thousands to denounce what they said will be a return of authoritarian rule if she is elected.

Adding even more bitterness to the election, 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.

Polls released in the past week show the race for second place tightening, with some for the first time giving Mendoza the edge.

Of the two main challengers, Mendoza represents the biggest shift from the status quo under President Ollanta Humala, who is prevented by the constitution from seeking a second, consecutive term. An admirer of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Mendoza fell out with Humala's government over its crackdown on anti-mining protesters.

While corruption scandals and economic stress sparked by the end of the commodities boom have pushed much of South America to the right, as evidenced by the defeat of leftist candidates in Argentina and Venezuela, polls show that more than half of Peruvians are clamoring for more state intervention in the economy — just the sort of policy that Mendoza favors.

She's vowed to radically change the pro-business economic model that propelled record growth over the past decade by ramping up spending and reducing Peru's dependence on extraction of natural resources that she says degrades the environment. Peru is among the world's top three silver producers.

In a Lima shantytown, bookstore owner Francisco Huaman said he voted for Mendoza in the hope she would support small businesses, tackle corruption and defend the environment.

"Mendoza is the one who offers real change," he said.

Kuczynski has tried to position himself as the candidate of the center, saying he will avoid the dangers of the two "extremes." But the 77-year-old investor favorite has been dogged by his service to past governments and Peruvians' preference for outsider candidates. Three of Peru's last four presidents had never run for any office before being elected.

Further undermining Peruvians' faith in their democracy was the last-minute decision by electoral authorities to expel two candidates from the race. Both were kicked out on technical grounds and the timing of the decision, a month before voting, has fueled speculation Keiko Fujimori or another candidate may have been pulling the strings.

The OAS urged the candidates' reinstatement to avoid a "semi-democratic election."

Also up for grabs on yesterday are all 130 seats in Peru's congress. Voting is mandatory.

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