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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK
No clear winner in Peru's three-way race
By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Lima

The outcome of presidential elections in Peru appears to be less than clear as they twist and turn through their various stages.

Sixteen million Peruvians cast their votes at more than 80,000 polling stations around the country and partial results showed that there was little separating the three main candidates.

Voters wash ink off their hands
Voters will soon be washing the ink off their hands again
All that was clear was that all were a long way from the 50% needed for outright victory. The top two will go through to a second round to be held some time next month or early June - but which two?

Opinion polls had indicated all along that the nationalist former army officer, Ollanta Humala, would win the first round.

The conservative congresswoman, Lourdes Flores, was always in second place. But the former President, Alan Garcia, has been rising in the polls in the final weeks of campaigning and very little now seems to separate those top three.

They may attract similar levels of support but they differ radically in their policies and styles.

Different pitches

Mr Humala led a failed coup in the final days of Alberto Fujimori's presidency. He appeals to Peru's large numbers of poor with talk of revolution at the ballot box and a greater distribution of the country's wealth.

His friendship with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez worries some in Washington and petrifies the wealthy elite and the business community in Lima and other Peruvian cities.

Mr Humala is hampered by a radically opinionated family although he tries hard to distance himself from them. One brother is in prison after his involvement in a coup attempt. His mother has said homosexuals should be shot.

[Politicians] are all the same - none of them offers anything better or understands how we live here in the shanty towns
Maura
The conservative Ms Flores - who, if she won, would be Peru's first woman president - appeals to that business community frightened by Mr Humala.

But she has struggled to strike a chord with Peru's poor and the indigenous groups who see her as a representative of the white elite which has little understanding of their plight.

Ms Flores promises to continue with the successful economic policies of the outgoing President, Alejandro Toledo.

Those policies may look good on paper but little of that wealth has filtered down to the 50% of Peruvians who live below the poverty line.

Alan Garcia became president of Peru in 1985 aged just 35. A charismatic speaker, he promised much. He left office five years later with inflation at 7,000%, many allegations that his administration was corrupt and a bloody conflict with Shining Path rebels in full swing.

He says he has matured.

His support is drawn mostly from young Peruvians who do not remember his time in office.

Cynicism

The wooden shacks of the shanty town of Pamplona Alta cling to the dusty hillsides south of Lima. Water is delivered to plastic barrels shared by several households and it costs far more here than it does to those who receive a piped service in the wealthy suburbs.

Ollanta Humala on polling day
Mr Humala is in the lead - but not by much
There are more Humala election posters stuck on the wooden walls than those of the other candidates but he by no means enjoys universal support here.

Many are unemployed and rely on community kitchens financed by church groups to feed them.

Rosa, working at one such kitchen, says they are concerned about security.

"There's no work here in Peru," she says.

"That's why the youngsters get involved in crime because they've got nowhere to go where they can develop, where they can grow like good human-beings. You can look everywhere and not find it so they form gangs and cause damage."

Perhaps the most common view is a general cynicism about politicians in general.

Maura, as she shows me her tiny house at the top of a steep hill, says: "Sure, they're all the same - none of them offers anything better or understands how we live here in the shanty towns.

"They only see what is in front of them and not behind."

Battle ahead

It is perhaps not surprising that Peruvians have little faith in their presidents when you look at the record of the last three.

Alan Garcia and Lourdes Flores
In 2001, Alan Garcia edged Lourdes Flores out of the second round
Alejandro Toledo came to power on a wave of public euphoria five years ago, promising like so many before him to end corruption and fight poverty.

He very soon began losing support as the population felt he was not serious about keeping those promises.

His approval rating dipped to single figures.

His predecessor, Alberto Fujimori, fled the country and resigned by fax from a hotel room in Tokyo. On his return to Peru to contest these elections he was arrested in Chile.

He is now in jail awaiting proceedings to extradite him to Peru, where he is wanted on corruption and human rights charges dating from his time in office.

And before him, as we have said, there was the young Alan Garcia.

Some analysts argue that the diverse selection of candidates represent the deep divisions in Peruvian society.

Others say it is a sign of the country's healthy democracy.

The campaign leading up to Sunday's vote was hard fought and littered with insults. As the stakes are raised in the second round, that battle is only likely to intensify.




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