June 4, 2006

Ex-president Garcia leads Peru runoff: unofficial counts

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Former President Alan Garcia led a
run-off election on Sunday, staging a political comeback after
his 1980s government ended in economic ruin, rebel violence and
accusations of rights abuses, exit polls and unofficial counts

Garcia, who portrays himself as a left-of-center democrat,
won 52.9 percent of votes, according to an unofficial count by
respected Apoyo pollster which sampled of 86 percent of

Nationalist ex-army commander Ollanta Humala had 47.1
percent of votes.

The Apoyo results echoed other exit polls as well as
another unofficial count by Datum pollster.

A Garcia victory would undermine efforts by Venezuela's
President Hugo Chavez to take advantage of a populist tide in
Latin America to challenge U.S. influence.

Chavez and Garcia insulted each other before the vote after
the Venezuelan leader publicly supported Humala.

Many Peruvians apparently voted for Garcia -- dubbed "Latin
America's Kennedy" when he was first elected to the presidency
at the age of 35 -- because he was seen as the lesser of two
evils and less hostile to business.

"It's a sad day. Neither of them is a good candidate," said
45-year-old psychologist Ida Blanc after she cast her vote for
Garcia in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Lima. "I want
stability and Alan is the best of a bad bunch."

Hundreds of people in northern Peru, the bastion of
Garcia's APRA party, burst into applause and waved white
handkerchiefs on hearing the results of the exit polls.

Humala's supporters said it was too early to admit defeat,
while rival voters threw water and rubbish at each other in the
southern Andean city of Arequipa.

Election officials say they will have more than half of
votes counted by end of Sunday.


Garcia says he has learned from his mistakes who will
better manage Peru's economy after five years of unprecedented
growth. But Peruvians who were left destitute by his first term
are still very suspicious of the 57-year-old lawyer.

"Peru is being tremendously generous to Garcia, something
that he doesn't really deserve ... But this is not a blank
check, he has to work hard, to do something far better this
time," said Augusto Alvarez, political analyst and editor of
daily Peru.21.

Garcia still preaches state regulation and his victory
would be another sign of a backlash against free-market reforms
in Latin America, which have done little to improve the living
conditions of millions of voters.

Humala, who has charged the election could be tainted by
fraud, declared "everything must be transparent" after he voted
with his wife in Surco, a middle-class district of Lima.

Humala's plans to put the $75 billion economy in state
hands seem too risky to many people who have lived through 30
years of turbulent governments ranging from military
dictatorships to President Alberto Fujimori's corrupt populist
government from 1990 to 2000.

Humala's campaign has also been hurt by the vocal support
he has received from Chavez, who is generally unpopular in
Peru, a country that has good relations with the United States
and has a significant migrant population there.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Ordonez and Teresa