April 10, 2006

Populist in tight three-way race for Peru president

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Ollanta Humala, a former army
commander who campaigned to put Peru's economy in state hands,
clung to a slim lead on Monday in a tight three-way race for
president, official results showed.

With 53 percent of votes counted, Peru's election authority
said Humala -- who has vowed a revolution to redistribute
Peru's wealth to the Andean poor -- had 27.8 percent.

Pro-business conservative Lourdes Flores was second with
26.3 percent, followed by left-of-center former President Alan
Garcia with 25.6 percent. No candidate had the 50 percent
support to avoid a runoff between the top two finishers.

Humala, who also pledges to industrialize Peru's production
of coca, the basis for cocaine, worries business leaders and
the European-descended upper classes. If elected, the ally of
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would be the latest in a
string of Latin American leftists to come to power challenging
U.S. policies such as coca eradication.

Peru is the world's No. 2 cocaine producer after Colombia.

"Humala's going to nationalize our natural resources for
the good of the people. He's going to end poverty," said Neida
Tico, 41, a farm worker voting in Lima.

Most popular among Peru's long-neglected rural poor, Humala
pledged to service the country's $30 billion debt if elected
and keep a small fiscal deficit despite his generous welfare

The business community dreads a second round between Humala
and Garcia, who presided over economic collapse during his
1985-90 rule. Garcia, 56, saw his backing rise in the final
pre-election polls, as support ebbed for Flores, 46, a lawyer
who has struggled to connect with the needy.

In the 2001 election, Garcia slipped past Flores at the
last minute to face off against outgoing President Alejandro
Toledo in the run-off.


"We're going to see a tough battle over the ballots and
Flores and Garcia are going to want every vote counted,"
political analyst Alberto Adrianzen said.

Undaunted by the close figures, hundreds of Flores'
supporters celebrated with fireworks in Lima, assured that she
had made the runoff.

Flores, who topped polls only months ago, has played up her
potential role as Peru's first female leader in a country where
women are perceived as more honest.

Whoever is ultimately elected president will face a
fragmented Congress in which no party has a majority, early
election results showed, making it harder to push through laws
without broad support.

Humala's opponents and Peru's hostile media fear he
represents a return to autocratic rule, in part because he led
a failed coup in 2000 against then-President Alberto Fujimori.
He also draws inspiration from the country's 1970s leftist
military dictatorship.

"Humala is a jump into the unknown. It's a return to
military rule," said Ricardo Ladron de Guevarra, 28, a student
voting for Flores in an affluent Lima neighborhood. "Lourdes
isn't the best, but I'm afraid of Humala and Garcia."

In Lima, thousands of angry people swarmed Humala as he
voted in a middle-class neighborhood, shouting "murderer,
murderer!" and "Ollanta is Chavez!" Some, including wealthy
women holding designer handbags, hurled trash at him before
riot police escorted him away.

Humala's popularity has risen despite efforts by the media
to discredit him and allegations of human rights abuses as a

The half of Peruvians who are poor see him as their savior
after five years of strong economic growth that has failed to
trickle down to remote villages and create jobs.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Gray and Marco Aquino)