|Ollanta Humala, a former army officer, will likely face a run-off against one of his rivals at a later date [Reuters]
The only certainty about Sunday's general elections in Peru is that all the polls predict a victory for nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala, but say he will not have enough votes to secure the presidency in the first round.
The real electoral battle is therefore between those who appear to have a chance to compete with Humala in the June 5 run-off – namely Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza 2011, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Alianza por el Gran Cambio, and former president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) of Alianza Perú Posible.
Humala, a 48-year-old former army officer backed by the Gana Perú (Peru Wins) political party, is preferred by between 28 and 29.5 per cent of respondents, according to sources with access to the results of the latest polls by the firms Ipsos, Apoyo and CPI, which cannot be reported in the local media because of Peru's electoral rules.
Fujimori is placed second in the polls, with 21 to 24 per cent of voter intentions; Kuczynski comes third, with 18.4 to 19 per cent, and in fourth place is Toledo, with only 15 to 18.2 per cent of voter support, although for most of the campaign which formally started in January, he was the front-runner.
Rankings of candidates to take over July 28 from President Alan García, whose Partido Aprista Peruano (PAP), surprisingly, is not fielding a candidate, have changed dramatically nearly every week of the campaign leading up to Sunday's elections, when 130 members of Congress and five delegates to the Andean Parliament will also be elected.
At first, polls predicted a win for Toledo, followed by former mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda; but now Castañeda has been left behind, and Toledo is struggling to stay in the race.
In contrast to Humala, who is regarded as centre-left, the policies proposed by Toledo, Kuczynski and the eldest daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) range from centre-right to rightwing.
"There are two considerations here," said Fernando Tuesta, head of the Catholic University's Institute of Public Opinion. "One is that many Peruvians are discontented with the present situation, or want to see greater improvements, and Humala has addressed himself to them ever since he first ran for the presidency in 2006."
The nationalist candidate has set forth the most proposals about redistribution of wealth and fighting poverty, and he also talks about change, while his rivals stress the idea of continuity from the García administration. "That's the big difference between them," Tuesta said.
"The second consideration is that Humala's electoral campaign has been coherent, with a definite strategy and very clear goals for positioning the candidate and attracting support. He did not waste time arguing with other candidates, but devoted his efforts to proposing solutions," he said.
According to Tuesta, Humala's position has changed since he ran in 2006, when he won the first round but lost the run-off to García. "His discourse has become much more moderate, even though his actual programme of government is at least as radical as it was then."
Intellectuals get involved
In a hard-fought campaign marked by widely scattered voter opinion, writer Mario Vargas Llosa., winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature and a former presidential candidate in 1990, when he lost to the almost-unknown Alberto Fujimori, has spoken up.
He repeated his 2009 remark that a run-off between Humala and Keiko Fujimori would be like "choosing between AIDS and cancer." "It will not happen, I refuse to believe it. I don't think my fellow Peruvians could be so foolish as to place us in such a dilemma," the conservative writer said.
"Rather than two forms of authoritarianism, Humala and (Keiko) Fujimori represent two ways of disrespecting the political institutions," said political scientist Carlos Meléndez. "It's not that she is authoritarian because of her father, or that Humala is authoritarian because of his military background. They are both authoritarian because their proposals would weaken democratic institutions."
Keiko Fujimori has benefited, not from a spectacular campaign and a great popular following, but from the loyalty of a hard core of her father's supporters. The pro-Fujimori legislators have consistently won around 20 per cent of the vote, a large share in the context of a widely split electorate, he said.
"She is the only candidate with a following of active supporters that has grown more than any other party in recent years. She leads them personally, and communicates directly to her followers," said Meléndez, who compiled Anticandidatos, guía analítica para unas elecciones sin partidos (Anti-Candidates: An Analytical Guide for Elections without Parties), published this year.
Keiko Fujimori told a crowd in April 2009, "We will not rest until we achieve freedom for Alberto Fujimori," who is serving 25 years in prison for corruption and human rights violations.
But now, in a bid to woo disapproving voters, she has toned down her suggestions that she would pardon her father if she were elected president. "The family has decided to abide by the decision of the courts," she said.
Keiko Fujimori and her family have legal problems of their own. State prosecutor Gladys Echaíz is investigating her for allegedly using funds embezzled by her father to pay for her studies in the United States. The candidate twice failed to respond to judicial summonses during her campaign.
Echaíz has also charged Rosa Fujimori, the ex-president's sister, for illicit enrichment, and she is now regarded as a fugitive from justice after failing to appear at a trial for misappropriation of donations from Japan for poor children in Peru. The funds were allegedly deposited in her bank accounts.
A version of this story first appeared on Inter Press Service news agency.