June 3, 2006

Peruvians set to narrowly elect Garcia in runoff

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvians looked set to elect former
leader Alan Garcia by a narrow margin in a presidential runoff
on Sunday but with almost a tenth of voters undecided,
pollsters gave ex-army nationalist Ollanta Humala an outside
chance of victory.

Following a campaign that included fights, egg-throwing and
a shootout between rival supporters, voters must choose between
Humala's promises of a revolution for the half of Peru's 27
million people who are poor and Garcia's pledges to improve on
unprecedented economic growth since 2002.

Humala, a political newcomer and former army commander,
says he will increase the state's role in the economy. Garcia,
whose 1985-1990 government left Peru in economic ruin, has
sought to rebuild his image as a moderate.

"Voters are perhaps more polarized than we've ever seen in
Peru's recent history ... but Garcia should win," said Alfredo
Torres, director of the respected pollster Apoyo.

Polling stations open at 8 a.m. (9 a.m EDT/1300 GMT) and
the first exit poll is expected at 4 p.m. (5 p.m EDT/2100


Election officials declined to give a time for the first
official results but say they will have more than 52 percent of
the votes counted by the end of Sunday. Apoyo says its exit
polls are likely to be reliable if Garcia is shown winning 53
percent or more of the vote but below that level, only the
official results can be depended on for a final result.

Polls on Friday gave Garcia up to a 12-point lead over
Humala. But 8 percent of voters say they had not decided which
candidate to vote for, giving Humala a slight chance of being
elected, political analysts said.


"Neither candidate inspires me or my friends," said
24-year-old student Alicia Martinez. "I'm being asked to choose
between a radical former soldier and Garcia, who has a terrible

Peruvians are split between those who say only foreign
investment, mining and developing financial markets will create
jobs and others who say the free-market model has failed and
want an alternative.

Peruvians are expected to choose Garcia because he is seen
as the lesser of two evils and less hostile to business in a
country that became the world's fifth-biggest gold producer in

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 populist, corrupt
1990-2000 government.

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