June 4, 2006

Ex-leader pitted against nationalist in Peru vote

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvians began to vote on Sunday in
a presidential run-off pitting a former leader who brought on
economic ruin in the 1980s against an ex-army nationalist
promising a revolution against the rich.

Polls show center-left former President Alan Garcia is
likely to beat Ollanta Humala in a bitterly fought election
that has included street fights, egg-throwing and a shootout
between rival supporters.

Peruvians are expected to choose Garcia -- dubbed "Latin
America's Kennedy" when he was first elected to the presidency
at the age of 35 -- because he is seen as the lesser of two
evils and less hostile to business.

Humala, a political newcomer who is supported by anti-U.S.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, says he will increase the
state's role in the economy.

Garcia, whose 1985-1990 government left Peru
hyperinflation, Marxist rebel violence and a reputation for
human rights abuses, has sought to rebuild his image as a

"Ollanta is not good for us ... he's going to turn us back
30 years. Alan will keep things stable and I will vote for
him," said Elvira Choque, a 29-year-old nurse while voting in a
slum on the sandy desert fringes of Lima where soldiers with
guarded polls.

With both candidates calling for more state control of the
economy, the election is another sign of a shift to the left in
Latin America, where millions of voters are tired of free
market reforms that have done little to improve living

Some half of Peru's 27 million people are poor.

But a Humala win would be a serious blow for Washington's
influence in Latin America due to his ties to Chavez, who is
trying to rally the region against what he says is U.S.

The first exit poll is expected at 4 p.m. (5 p.m EDT/2100

"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.

Election officials say they will have more than half of
votes counted by 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. 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.

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 Chavez, who is generally unpopular in
Peru, a country that has good relations with the United States
and has a significant migrant population there.