Peruvians vote as shadow of ex-leader hangs over tight presidential race

Election has become a referendum on the legacy of imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimoris iron hand style of government

Peruvians were choosing on Sunday between two conservative candidates in a tight presidential election that has become a referendum on the legacy of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimoris iron-handed 1990s rule.

Recent polls showed former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski having erased a lead held by his better-organized and politically sharper opponent, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Perus former strongman.

A mock voting exercise on Saturday by Lima-based Gfk put support for Kuczynski at 51% compared with 49% for Fujimori. With a margin for error in the survey of plus or minus 1.6%, it was still a statistical tie but a far better standing for Kuczynski than a week ago, when he was trailing by more than 4%. Fujimori topped him in the first round of voting by almost 20%.

A potential swing vote could be the 885,000 Peruvians eligible to vote abroad about 3.8% of the electorate. Many already had cast ballots at embassies and consulates worldwide as voting began in Peru.

The 77-year-old Kuczynski, who supported Keiko Fujimori in the 2011 runoff won by outgoing president Ollanta Humala, has narrowed the gap by abandoning his above-the-fray, grandfatherly appeal and hitting Fujimori hard.

Peru is on the threshold of becoming a narco-state, he told supporters at his closing campaign rally in Lima.

The reference was not just to her fathers well-known ties to corruption, organized crime and death squads, for which he is serving a 25-year prison sentence, but an attempt to draw attention to a string of scandals that have hobbled Fujimori in the final stretch, most notably a report that one of her big fundraisers and the secretary general of her party is the target of a US Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Peru is the worlds largest producer of cocaine.

Her running mate, Jose Chlimper, is also in hot water for orchestrating the broadcast of a doctored audio tape in an attempt to clear the name of the party boss.

If Fujimori wins the big question is whether shell be able to control her party, said Eduardo Dargent, a political scientist at Limas Catholic University.

PPK, as Kuczynski is almost universally known in Peru, is also benefiting from a last-minute endorsement by the third-place finisher in the first round of voting, leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, the protagonist of a massive anti-Fujimori demonstration this week the likes of which Peru has not seen since the turbulent end of Fujimoris rule 16 years ago.

Fujimori, who served as first lady in her fathers administration after her parents divorce, has tried to contain her rivals rise by taking distance from her fathers crimes, even signing a pledge not to pardon him if elected.

Im the candidate, not my father, she has frequently repeated.

At the same time, shes vowed to bring back the iron hand style of government for which many still revere the elder Fujimori, who is credited with taming Maoist Shining Path rebels as well as the countrys hyperinflation.

Instead of rebels, Keiko Fujimori is promising to wield an iron fist against crime, a top voter concern. Among her proposals: build jails in high-altitude prisons in the Andes to punish and isolate dangerous criminals.

She has also trying to cast her rival, the son of a Jewish-Polish immigrant who is married to an American and spent decades in business outside Peru, as part of the white elite establishment that has traditionally overlooked the needs of the poor.

Regardless of who wins, Keiko Fujimori already has reshaped Perus political landscape.

In April, her Popular Force party won 73 of 130 seats in the unicameral congress, setting Fujimori up to be the first president since her father in the 1990s to govern with a legislative majority something her detractors cite as a risk to Perus already-weak system of checks and balances.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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