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Last Updated: Friday, 2 June 2006, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Tough choice for Peru's voters
By Nick Caistor
BBC regional analyst

People queue to buy food in the Peruvian capital in an archive photo from 1985
The last time Mr Garcia was in office Peru was hit by hyperinflation
The two men contesting the run-off election for president in Peru on 4 June could not have more contrasting backgrounds.

Alan Garcia, the front runner, represents Peru's oldest political party, Apra (Alianza Revolucionaria Americana).

He is a professional politician, and became Peru's youngest president when he took office at 36 years of age in 1985.

After several years in exile during the Fujimori governments in the 1990s, he returned and only narrowly lost the 2001 presidential elections to the present incumbent, Alejandro Toledo.

His opponent, 42-year-old Ollanta Humala, has arrived at the presidential contest by a very different route.

Alan Garcia could not be a dictator even if he wanted; Ollanta Humala could not be a democrat even if he tried
Gustavo Gorritti
Peruvian commentator

He is a career army officer, who took part in the campaign against the Shining Path guerrillas and the brief border war with Ecuador in 1995.

He was kicked out of the army in 2000, after leading a revolt against the then President, Alberto Fujimori, and his shadowy intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

Mr Humala was eventually pardoned by the Peruvian Congress, but forced into retirement in 2004.

This led his brother, Antauro Humala, to stage another armed rebellion, this time against the Toledo government. This was the start of the two brothers' real entry into politics, on a nationalist ticket.

Ollanta Humala caused a sensation in the first round of voting in April when he came from being a complete outsider to poll more than 30% of the votes, putting him in first place.

Ollanta Humala speaks during a campaign rally

This dislodged the long-time front runner Lourdes Flores into third position, leaving Mr Humala to face Mr Garcia in the June run-off.

Paradoxically, what the two candidates share is the fact that many Peruvians regard them with great suspicion, and refuse to cast their vote for them.

To the middle-class and those on the right, Alan Garcia's presidency from 1985-1990 was the start of Peru's political collapse.

They question the way he dealt with the threat posed by Shining Path guerrillas. They see his government as the start of widespread corruption at many levels of the state.

But they are most upset at what they see as his disastrous mismanagement of Peru's economy.

Mr Garcia began by restricting payments of Peru's foreign debt to the IMF. He followed this up by trying to nationalise the banking sector, and bringing in populist economic measures which eventually led to massive hyperinflation.

Reluctant voters

Mr Humala is also a highly controversial figure. The fact that he took part in an armed uprising has led many in Peru to question his democratic credentials.

There are also persistent claims that during the war against the Shining Path he was directly involved in torture and other human rights abuses.

Peruvians are also suspicious of the fact that he appears to model himself on another army officer who moved into politics after a failed coup attempt - the controversial Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, who has backed his colleague in Peru.

In addition, many voters see the fact that Mr Humala has no real roots in parliamentary democracy - his Nationalist Party was only formed when he launched his presidential bid - as a further threat to democratic rule.

Political split

This distaste for both candidates is likely to mean that a high proportion of voters (voting is a legal requirement in Peru) will spoil their votes.

Alan Garcia addresses supporters at an election rally
Mr Garcia says he has learned from his past mistakes

But in the end, it seems that a majority will incline towards Mr Garcia.

One respected political commentator in Peru, Gustavo Gorritti, has noted: "Alan Garcia could not be a dictator even if he wanted; Ollanta Humala could not be a democrat even if he tried."

If he does win, Mr Garcia will face many immediate problems.

The first is that the loose coalition behind Mr Humala will probably have more seats in Congress than Apra.

There is also the risk of Peru splitting politically into north - where Mr Garcia and Apra have their stronghold - and south, where Mr Humala receives his greatest backing.

Whichever man wins on 4 June, they will have to cope with the kind of sustained hostility from the press, other politicians and Peruvians in general that has meant the outgoing President, Alejandro Toledo, has governed with approval levels in single figures.

But the greatest challenge for the winner will be to make Peruvians feel they have a government and state which represents them and promotes democratic rule.

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