Populist leftist Humala wins Peru’s first round


4-12-06, 9:48 am

Ollanta Humala, a former army commander whose nationalist campaign has polarized Peruvians, held a narrow lead in Peru's presidential election on Sunday, initial official results showed.

With 45 percent of votes counted, Peru's election authority said Humala -- who has vowed to redistribute Peru's wealth by putting the economy in state hands -- had 27.3 percent.

Pro-business conservative Lourdes Flores was second with 26.5 percent followed by left-of-center former President Alan Garcia with 26.1 percent. No candidate had the 50 percent support to avoid a second round between the top two vote-getters.

The early results reflected trends in Peru's main cities from which votes arrive first and where Flores enjoys her widest support.

Humala has pledged a revolution for Peru's poor majority, worrying business leaders and the European-descended upper classes. If elected, the ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would be the latest in a string of Latin American leftists to come to power challenging U.S. policies.

Peru's poor and indigenous people are Humala's main backers, and many live in remote rural areas. Garcia's stronghold is in northern Peru.

Humala led a failed coup in 2000 against then-President Alberto Fujimori and draws inspiration from the country's 1970s leftist military dictatorship. Critics fear he represents a return to autocratic rule.

'Humala is a jump into the unknown. It's a return to military rule,' said Ricardo Ladron de Guevarra, 28, a student voting for Flores in an affluent Lima neighborhood. 'Lourdes isn't the best, but I'm afraid of Humala and Garcia.'

In Lima, thousands of angry people swarmed Humala as he voted in a middle-class neighborhood, shouting 'murderer, murderer' and 'Ollanta is Chavez!' Some, including wealthy women holding designer handbags, hurled trash at him before he was escorted away by riot police.

Humala's popularity has risen despite being targeted by a hostile media and allegations of human rights abuses as a soldier, which he denies. 'I'm a victim of an anti-democratic campaign, a political ambush,' Humala told reporters.

The 43-year-old has campaigned to scrap a free-trade deal with Washington and aims to levy new royalties on mining companies, including Denver-based Newmont, as well as industrialize production of coca, the raw material for cocaine.

Peru is the world's No. 2 cocaine producer after Colombia.

Investors dread a second round between Humala and Garcia, who presided over economic collapse during his 1985-90 rule. Garcia, 56, saw his backing rise in the final pre-election polls, as support ebbed for Flores, 46, a lawyer who has struggled to connect with Peru's poor majority.

Garcia could repeat his performance in 2001, when he slipped past Flores at the last minute to face off against outgoing President Alejandro Toledo in the run-off.

'We're going to see a tough battle over the ballots and Flores and Garcia are going to want every vote counted,' political analyst Alberto Adrianzen said.

Voting was largely calm. Two small explosions were heard in a coca-growing area in the central Andes while the polls were open, but caused no harm or disruption.

Flores, 46, who topped polls only months ago, has played up her potential role as Peru's first female leader in a country where women are perceived as more honest.

From MercoPress