Revamped leftist leads tight race for Peru presidency

As per polls, the leftist Ollanta Humala could win 30 % of first-round vote.

Lima: Peru votes Sunday for a new President in a tight race led by left-wing nationalist Ollanta Humala, who returns with a softer image and promises to share the resource-rich nation`s record growth.

Pollsters predict a second round runoff between Humala and right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori, since no one candidate is likely to win more than half the vote.

The possibility of having to choose between the two divisive figures concerns many moderates among the 20 million Peruvians required to vote for a successor to Alan Garcia.

But the volatile race is not over yet: ex-prime minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, known as "PPK," appears close behind, followed by Peru`s first Indian president Alejandro Toledo.

The South American nation, which includes Amazon rainforest, the towering Andes and a Pacific coastline, seen record growth in the past decade, backed by exports from its mineral-rich land and ocean rich in marine life.

20 million Peruvians required to vote for a successor to Alan Garcia.

Ollanta Humala has promised a "great transformation and great redistribution of riches."

The 48-year-old former soldier, who fought Peru`s Maoist guerrillas in the 1990s, has brushed up his image in his second bid to take power after his narrow second round defeat in 2006.

He has now publicly turned away from his former leftist mentor Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez toward the more moderate model of Brazil.

Polls suggest he could win almost 30 percent of the first-round vote, while his rise sent shudders through the markets.

But Humala would not have a majority in the fractured Congress even if he managed to win a June runoff.

Fujimori benefits from die-hard supporters of her father -- the iron-fisted president of the 1990s now jailed for human rights abuses during a clampdown on leftist guerrillas, but also remembered for reining in hyperinflation.

Her experience includes her public role as Peru`s "first lady" aged 19 following her parents` divorce, and she frequently refered to her father in the campaign.

"We defeated terrorism and inflation," Keiko, now 35, said recently.

Toledo -- a 65-year-old who was born into Andean poverty but earned a US doctorate in economics -- seeks to capitalize on growth achieved during his 2001-2006 presidency, but has suffered from a poor campaign.

Meanwhile, 72-year-old former Wall Street banker Kuczynski rose recently with support from Lima`s elite.

The ruling APRA party on Saturday threw its support behind him in a bid to help a "candidate with democratic convictions" through to the second round.

In a Lima coffee shop, 19-year-old textile design student Maria Jose Desolar said she would place her first ever vote for Kuczynski.

"He`s the best prepared," she said. "I`m nervous because Humala is crazy."

While many voters remained undecided hours before the vote, shamans this week predicted that Humala and Toledo would go through to a second round, after throwing flowers on photographs of five most popular candidates.

Peru’s electoral board could take days to announce the official second-round contenders after Sunday’s vote, which is also for 130 lawmakers for the one-chamber Congress.

Bureau Report

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