April 16, 2006

Gap narrows in Peru presidency run-off battle

By Marco Aquino

LIMA (Reuters) - The gap between two candidates battling
for a runoff spot in Peru's presidential race narrowed on
Sunday as votes cast abroad moved conservative Lourdes Flores
closer behind left-leaning former president Alan Garcia.

With 89.5 percent of votes counted from the April 9
election, nationalist former army commander Ollanta Humala, who
has said he will give the state more control over the economy,
was in first place with 30.9 percent of the vote and assured a
spot in a second round in May or June.

Of the two vying for second place, Garcia had 24.38 percent
of votes and Flores edged up to 23.53 percent, a difference of
95,619 votes, according to the National Electoral Processes

Peruvian law mandates a second-round election between the
two top vote getters if no candidate gets more than 50 percent.
The second vote takes place within a month of the official
results of the first round.

Garcia's American Popular Revolutionary Alliance party on
Saturday withdrew a request to nullify votes cast in Miami,
Madrid, Milan, Italy, and other cities. His party had asked for
those votes to be thrown out, alleging illegal campaigning by
Flores' National Unity party on voting day.

But Garcia's party leaders later said they were confident
the votes from abroad would not erode his slim lead,
calculating that votes from Peru's interior that are being
recounted will offset Flores' advantage among voters abroad.

Garcia, 56, was president between 1985 and 1990 and left
office amid hyper-inflation and surging violence by Shining
Path rebels.

Some 450,000 Peruvians live abroad and political analysts
have estimated that some 300,000 voted on April 9. Flores'
party hopes some 200,000 of those votes will shift the balance
in her favor.

Peru's markets were volatile last week as uncertainty over
the outcome of the elections continued, but on Wednesday, the
last trading day before the four-day Easter weekend, stocks
rose 4.1 percent as investors bet Humala would lose against
either Flores or Garcia in a second round.

Flores, a lawyer and former legislator, is favored by
foreign investors.

Pre-election polls showed Humala would face a tight runoff
against Garcia. If Humala were to face Flores, the polls
suggested she would win.

Election authorities do not expect to complete their vote
count until the end of April because they are reviewing and
counting 1.4 million ballots that were marred or difficult to
read, or contested by one of the parties.