Peru chooses between two flawed presidential candidates

June 6, 2011

By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

Divided and tense, Peruvians voted for president Sunday in a neck-and-neck election between two controversial candidates, either of whom will be forced to lead a weak, troubled government.

The runoff pits Keiko Fujimori, the conservative 36-year-old daughter of an imprisoned former president serving time for corruption and organizing death-squad killings, against Ollanta Humala, a leftist former military man whose talk of redistributing wealth terrifies Peru’s traditional elite.

Both have had to fight to overcome multiple negatives from their past and to build credibility before a skeptical and dispirited public. Many Peruvians expressed dismay at the choice and some considered deliberately nullifying their ballot. Voting is mandatory in Peru.

Opinion polls on Saturday, which by law could not be published so close to the election, showed Humala, who has steadily harped on the theme of corruption, creeping slightly past Fujimori, who had until then maintained a tiny lead. But they continued in a statistical tie, which was expected to prolong the count.

“We all have to go out and vote without fear, with confidence and hope, and with enough memory,” Humala said Sunday before voting.

Peru has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, sustained for a decade or more by high prices for minerals and other commodities. Its richest citizens have become very rich, a bustling middle class has emerged in cities and poverty has been reduced at the national level to 30% of the population. But poverty is twice that in parts of the long-neglected Andean highlands and jungles that are the source of much of the exported wealth.

Many Peruvian voters seemed to have formed their opinion about Fujimori based on whether they approved of her father,Alberto Fujimori, whose decade in power during the 1990s was marked by egregious rights abuses but also saw hyperinflation slowed and guerrilla organizations stifled. And perceptions of Humala were often tinted by his opponents’ efforts to paint him as another Hugo Chavez, the radical socialist president of Venezuela.

“The first Fujimori government, her father, made terrorism disappear completely,” said Andrea Mamani, a Fujimori supporter who at 18 is voting for the first time. “She will give us milk and open soup kitchens,” she added, recalling some of the populist programs of the Alberto Fujimori regime.

“It is a question of dignity,” countered Fausto Mayorga Lucar, 65, a retired bank employee who supports Humala. “We cannot permit the child of a murderer and thief, who is serving time in jail, to become president.”

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