April 5, 2006

Peru vote pits conservative against leftists

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - A radical nationalist, a leftist
ex-president with a dire economic record and a former
legislator vying to be Peru's first female president face off
at the polls on Sunday, with pledges to end the country's
chronic poverty as the common rallying cry.

But with no candidate likely to garner the 50 percent
support needed to win outright, the April 9 election has become
a battle to make it through to a run-off between the top two
placed candidates in May.

Front-runner Ollanta Humala, 43, who promises a
"revolution" for the poor by putting the economy in state
hands, looks most certain to make it through, with 31 percent
of voter support, polls show.

The former colonel from an outspoken ultranationalist
family has been accused of rights abuses as an army commander
during the Maoist Shining Path insurgency in the 1980s and
1990s. He led a failed coup attempt against former President
Alberto Fujimori in 2000.

He is loathed by Peru's worried wealthier classes.

But his mix of nationalism, populism and outsider status
has tapped into the frustration of the half of Peruvians who
are poor. They are angry that impressive economic growth has
only benefited a coastal, European-descended elite.

"We are a people without jobs or a future, where our young
people join the queues at the embassies to leave the country,
where our natural resources are controlled by foreign
companies. We've had enough," Humala told a rally in Lima.

Humala also worries Washington with his pledges to
industrialize production of coca, the raw material for cocaine.
He also aims to scrap a free-trade deal with the United States
and ally with anti-U.S. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

His victory would signal another shift to the left in Latin
America, where anti-U.S. leaders have taken power in countries
like Bolivia and Venezuela after a backlash against pro-market
reforms that many voters say led to more corruption and

"You can see voters punishing the administration of (U.S.
President George W.) Bush, voting in a direction that the Bush
administration wouldn't like," said Jorge Nef, director of the
Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at
the University of South Florida.


Such concerns are underscored by the poll decline of
pro-business market favorite Lourdes Flores, 46. The former
front-runner is now in second place and only just ahead of Alan
Garcia, a left-leaning ex-president whose administration left
Peru's economy in shambles in the late 1980s.

As single lawyer of European descent without children, the
former congresswoman has struggled to connect with average
Peruvians proud of their indigenous heritage.

"How can she lead Peru if she has never been a mother?"
asked Elena Loza, 33, a nurse from Peru's border with Bolivia.
"Our problems are obviously not hers."

Flores is backed by around 26 percent of voters. Her
supporters say Peru needs an honest female leader after the
corruption scandals of the outgoing government of President
Alejandro Toledo and former President Fujimori.

Polls say Flores would beat Humala or Garcia in a run-off.

But Garcia could squeeze past her into the second round
despite presiding over economic collapse and a burgeoning
Shining Path insurgency as president from 1985-1990.

With polls showing he is favored by slightly less than a
quarter of voters, the silver-tongued lawyer, 56, has launched
a 10-city tour during the last week of campaigning and swears
he has learned fiscal prudence from unhappy experience.