April 9, 2006

Nationalist holds narrow lead in Peru vote

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Ollanta Humala, a former army
commander whose nationalist campaign has polarized Peruvians,
held a narrow lead in Peru's presidential election on Sunday,
initial official results showed.

With slightly more than 30 percent of the vote counted,
Peru's election authority said Humala -- who has vowed to
redistribute Peru's wealth by putting the economy in state
hands -- had 27.6 percent.

Pro-business conservative Lourdes Flores was second with
26.7 percent followed by left-of-center former President Alan
Garcia with 25.7 percent. No candidate had the 50 percent
support to avoid a second round between the top two

The early election results reflected voting trends in
Peru's main cities from which votes arrive first and where
Flores enjoys wide support.

Humala has pledged a revolution for Peru's poor majority,
worrying 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.

Peru's poor and indigenous people are Humala's main
backers, and many live in remote rural areas. Garcia's
stronghold is in northern Peru.

Humala led a failed coup in 2000 against then-President
Alberto Fujimori and draws inspiration from the country's 1970s
leftist military dictatorship. Critics fear he represents a
return to autocratic rule.

"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 he
was escorted away by riot police.

Humala's popularity has risen despite being targeted by a
hostile media and allegations of human rights abuses as a
soldier, which he denies. "I'm a victim of an anti-democratic
campaign, a political ambush," Humala told reporters.

The 43-year-old has campaigned to scrap a free-trade deal
with Washington and aims to levy new royalties on mining
companies, including Denver-based Newmont, as well as
industrialize production of coca, the raw material for cocaine.

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

Investors dread 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 Peru's poor majority.

Garcia could repeat his performance in 2001, when he
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.

Voting was largely calm. Two small explosions were heard in
a coca-growing area in the central Andes while the polls were
open, but caused no harm or disruption.

Flores, 46, 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.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Gray and Marco Aquino)