Peru vote: Fujimori daughter or leftist ex-soldier

June 5, 2011 - 3:27 AM
Peru Elections

Electoral workers deliver ballots to a polling station in Lima, Peru, Saturday June 4, 2011. Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, will face Ollanta Humala in a closely contested presidential runoff on June 5. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peruvians are choosing in a presidential runoff Sunday between a leftist military man who promises to more equally distribute this Andean nation's mining wealth and the daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.

Keiko Fujimori appeals largely to the pro-business status quo and to those who consider her father a hero for vanquishing hyperinflation and fanatical Shining Path rebels during his 1990-2000 rule. She would be Peru's first female leader.

Her rival, cashiered army Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala, is championed mainly by the one in three Peruvians who live in poverty, without running water, having benefited little from a mining boom that fueled economic growth averaging 7 percent annually since 2001.

Humala held a slim edge in two opinion polls released Saturday. One, by the Ipsos-Apoyo firm, gave him 52 percent to 48 percent for Keiko Fujimori. Its error margin was 1 1/2 percentage points.

Humala narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election to Alan Garcia, and got nearly a third of the vote in this election's April 10 first round. Fujimori came in second as three candidates split the centrist vote, combining for 45 percent.

Humala has the endorsement of former President Alejandro Toledo, who finished fourth. Fujimori is backed by third-place finisher Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former prime minister and investment banker.

Both Humala and Keiko Fujimori, a congresswoman, are populists who promise a raft of giveaways for the poor, including free meals for schoolchildren and free preschool care.

But Humala, unlike his opponent, also insists on taxing windfall mining profits and exporting less natural gas so it is cheaper for Peruvians.

Humala has softened his rhetoric to make it less offensive to investors, and has backed down from early calls for renegotiating free trade agreements and rewriting the constitution.

He now disavows Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who openly backed him in 2006, and swears he's a democrat. The business community is spooked, though. It fears he would follow Chavez's playbook of seeking to cling to power while nationalizing industries and expropriating land.

Such things happened in 1968-75 in Peru under the leftist military dictatorship of Gen. Juan Velasco, a Chavez hero. At stake now, for starters, are the potential for losing more than $40 billion in investment pledged over the next decade for Peru's thriving mining sector.

Opposed to Keiko Fujimori are Peruvians who fear a return of the autocratic, kleptocratic regime over which her father presided. He is serving a 25-year sentence for authorizing death squads and kidnappings as well as corruption, and his daughter shares many of his former close advisers.

"She is a 36-year-old relatively unknown woman and the main draw is dad," said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist in Peru for the election.

Human rights issues also dog Humala. He was accused but never tried for rights abuses as a counterinsurgency commander in the 1990s. And he encouraged, in a radio address from abroad, a 2005 revolt against Toledo by his now-imprisoned brother, Antauro, that claimed the lives of four policemen.

The campaign's last few weeks were marked by virulent mudslinging, insults and dirty tricks.

Humala accused Garcia of directly backing his opponent, letting her father run her campaign from his spacious detention quarters and suggesting state intelligence agents were eavesdropping on him.

Peru's largely business-friendly news media, meanwhile, made no attempt to mask its anti-Humala bias.

The Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was so angry about it that he pulled his commentary column from El Comercio, calling Peru's dominant newspaper a "propaganda machine" for Keiko Fujimori. He lost the 1990 election to her father.

While the Humala camp has indicated it could summon supporters into the streets if there were fraud, international vote monitors said Saturday they saw little possibility of serious fraud.

"The only possibilities of fraud come from what are called the voting tables, small type of fraud, but I think the institutions are in good shape here," said former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, an Organization of American States observer.

Keiko Fujimori was Peru's first lady from 1994, when her parents' marriage ended nastily, until her father resigned in disgrace six years later in a corruption scandal. She has expressed regret for abuses during her 72-year-old father's rule but still calls him Peru's best president.

She said when he was convicted in 2009 that she'd become president so she could pardon him, but has since reversed herself.

Ironically, Humala has said he would consider pardoning Alberto Fujimori, who had pre-cancerous growths removed from his tongue, if he were seriously ill.

Peru has one of Latin America's widest gulfs between rich and poor. Its mining bonanza is credited with expanding the economy 8.7 percent last year. But the wealth hardly reaches the rural highlands where most mines are, and where two in three live in poverty.

"The prosperity is fundamentally confined to the coast," said Cesar Hildebrandt, an outspoken veteran Peruvian journalist.

"Everything along the (Pacific) ocean has gotten better. Everything in the Andean part is the same or worse."

Strike leaders decided to put on hold for Sunday's election a nearly month-long road blockade in the southern highlands state of Puno by Aymara Indians demanding the cancellation of a Canadian-owned silver mine they believe will poison their water.

Their reasoning: Opinion polls give Humala better than 65 percent support in Puno. Protest leader Walter Aduviri told The Associated Press by telephone that he believed Humala would negotiate in good faith and Keiko Fujimori would exhibit the indifference his people have come to expect from faroff Lima.

"There has never been dialogue with us," Aduviri said. "They call us radicals but we're so forgotten that they only notice us when there are protests."

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Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno contributed to this report.

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Frank Bajak on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fbajak.