Peru set for tight presidential run-off

As Peruvians head to polling booths on Sunday to elect a new president, pollsters are predicting a photo finish.

    Peru is set for a closely contested presidential poll in which the right-wing daughter of a jailed former president takes on a leftist former army commander.

    With the country's voters sharply divided between Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori who is in jail for "crimes against humanity" during his tenure as head of state, and Ollanta Humala, a career military man, pollsters are predicting a photo finish on Sunday.

    Most recent polls have shown Humala with a thin lead over Fujimori, although locked in a statistical tie after accounting for margin of error. But a poll by Ipsos on Saturday showed Humala ahead by 3.8 percentage points, giving him what would be a clear, though narrow, win.

    Contrasting support base

    Humala reached the run-off round of elections by courting mostly rural Peruvians who have long been left out of focus by political elites.

    He is a career military man whose leftist politics have become more moderate since narrowly losing the 2006 election.

    Fujimori, popular among the urban poor and women, squeaked through the previous round of voting when three more moderate candidates splintered the centrist vote.

    Formerly her father's first lady after her parents were divorced, the younger Fujimori has campaigned on promises of continuing to liberalise the economy - a process started by her father.

    From a foreign investment perspective, Fujimori is clearly the favoured candidate, as Peru's currency and stock market have slumped whenever opinion polls show Humala gaining ground.

    Because of the close polls, Goldman Sachs has advised clients to expect a recount which would cause even more volatility in the country's currency and stock markets in a vote being watched by foreign election monitors.

    While many voters have already chosen where to place their support, 15 to 20 per cent of the population is reportedly undecided.

    Those 15 to 20 per cent will decide who Peru's next president will be.

    Sharp divide

    The sharp divide, however, is mostly due to a fear of who could be worse.

    Humala's support is a mix between genuine hope for his left-leaning politics and a stark fear that Fujimori would follow in the footsteps of her imprisoned father, who was found guilty of numerous human rights violations including the forced sterilisation of over 300,000 women.

    Fujimori claims that Humala's lack of an economic plan would end free market reforms and leave a door open for leftist guerrillas who were disempowered during her father's regime.

    During her campaign, Fujimori apologised for some of her father's excesses - without calling them "crimes" - but meanwhile, about 20 per cent of the people on her proposed cabinet were her father's advisers.

    She also sought to portray herself as an independent, hard-working mother who no longer relies on her father for advice and will champion business.

    Humala has promised to manage the economy and respect foreign investors who plan to pour $40bn into mining and oil projects in the country over the next decade.

    "We are proposing democracy, not dictatorship... with development, social and economic inclusion, as well as economic growth," Humala said as he wrapped up his campaign.

    'Exploiting fears'

    Political analyst Carlos Melendez told Al Jazeera that both candidates were exploiting Peruvian fears.

    "The economic elite fears the economy will suffer while the poorest fear they will continue to be excluded and not recognised; the two political forces are trying to radicalise those fears," he said.

    "Humala is for a change," voter Rosa Carrillo told Al Jazeera. "We cannot go back to the authoritarian rule or corruption."

    But critics say Humala has not abandoned the hard-line ideology instilled in him by his father, a prominent radical.

    They warn that he will take over private firms and change the constitution to allow consecutive presidential terms.

    Those warnings have scared some Peruvians, who are enjoying growing wealth and remain haunted by the destabilising hyperinflation and insurgencies of the 1980s and 1990s.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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