March 26, 2006

Peru nationalist extends lead in presidential poll

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Ollanta Humala, a radical
nationalist former army officer campaigning to increase state
control of the economy, extended his lead slightly in Peru's
presidential race, as his rural support grew, a poll showed on

According to the Apoyo survey, 33 percent of those
questioned said they would vote for Humala on April 9, a
1-point increase from a poll released on March 19 and an
8-point climb since early February.

However, that is still less than the 50 percent needed to
win the election in the first round on April 9 and avoid a
runoff between the top two finishers.

Humala's leading rival, center-right lawyer Lourdes Flores,
who would be Peru's first woman president if elected, saw her
support drop by 1 point to 27 percent, compared with the March
19 poll. International investors see Flores as market-friendly.

Humala, who is most popular among Peru's poor and has the
backing of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saw his
support in the capital, Lima, fall slightly but gained in
Peru's Andean and jungle areas.

"The overall picture is stable. Humala continues to gain in
the provinces but has fallen slightly in Lima," Apoyo's
director, Alfredo Torres, told the America television network,
where the poll was published.

Former center-left President Alan Garcia, who is targeting
younger voters, remained in third place with 22 percent
support, a 1-point rise compared with mid March.

Garcia, who presided over economic chaos and rising Shining
Path rebel violence during his 1985-1990 presidency, has won
back support as a charismatic moderate.

But the same poll shows Flores would beat Humala by 53
percent to 47 percent if there were a second round.

The mid-March poll showed Humala and Flores tied at 50-50
in a second round.

Against Garcia, Flores would win by 57 percent to 43
percent in a second round. Humala would beat Garcia by 52
percent to 48 percent.

Flores is most popular among Peru's small middle class in
Lima and has the support of the country's business leaders.

Humala pledges to enforce state control of Peru's mining
and gas industries. Most popular in rural areas, he has struck
a chord among voters disillusioned with traditional politicians
who have failed to provide jobs and prosperity despite the
country's strong economic performance since 2002.

The Apoyo poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2