EYES INSIDE -- LATIN AMERICA
A former army officer with leftist leanings and on-again-off-again ties to Venezuelas Hugo Chávez is favored to finish first in Sundays presidential election in Peru. But with a plethora of candidates, no one is expected to arrive at the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff, which leaves much weeding through before knowing who will succeed outgoing President Alan Garcia, who's reached the end of his term limit.
Recent polls put Ollanta Humala, the runner up in the last election, roughly four percentage points ahead of his closest rivals: former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a one-time finance minister.
The other major contenders in the April 10 contest are Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), and Luis Castañeda, a conservative ex-mayor of Lima. Five lesser-known candidates are also on the ballot. A runoff is expected as no one is projected to win Sundays race with a clear 50% majority. A head-to-head between the top two finishers would take place June 5.
Outgoing President Alan García has called on his successor not to change any of the policies that have helped Peru become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2009, the countrys growth rate was listed at 9.8%.
While soaring crime, poverty and the economy have dominated the campaign, Humalas proposed platform, which calls for more state control of industry, and Chávezs alleged influence have also come into focus. Humala, an open ally of the Venezuelan leader during the 2006 campaign, has kept Chávez at arms length this time around.
For strategic reasons, I think he is going to say that [Chávez] is not supporting him, said the moderate Toledo. He asked Chávez on Twitter to stay out of the countrys internal affairs.
During an official visit to Uruguay last week, Chávez said the allegations are aimed at destroying Humalas Nationalist Party. They want to hurt him, the controversial Venezuelan leader said.
Humala has refused comment on his alleged Chávez ties, calling such speculation a job for political analysts. I only comment on facts, he said, adding that after April 10 he would be willing to discuss the matter.
Chávez is not the only question mark looming over Humalas candidacy. During an April 3 debate between the five main candidates, the front-runner sidestepped queries about whether he plans to reform the Constitution. He also refused to answer questions about his possible role in a 2005 rebellion known as the Andayualazo, which was led by his brother Antauro and resulted in the killings of four police officers.
A video of Antauro, in which he acknowledges that Humala ordered the rebellion, has surfaced on the Internet. Antauro, a former army major, is serving a 25-year-sentence for leading the uprising.
It is unclear whether Humala, if elected president, would move to pardon his imprisoned brother. Questions over presidential pardons have also come up for 35-year-old Keiko Fujimori, whose father is serving a more than 25-year-sentence for corruption and human rights abuses stemming from a pair of massacres that occurred during his presidency.
There is strong support for the release of former President Fujimori, who still enjoys enormous popularity among Peruvians. Julio Rosas Huaranga, an evangelical minister who is running on Kieko Fujimoris Fuerza 2011 slate for a seat in Congress, told Perus El Comercio that a pardon of her father should be the first thing she should do if elected.
The conservative Lima-daily La Razón reported that Keiko Fujimori was the clear winner of Sunday nights debate.
Photo - Congreso de la Republica de Peru