Toledo wins Peru presidential first round but faces runoff
LIMA, Peru – Alejandro Toledo, a U.S.-trained economist with Indian roots, finished first in Peru’s presidential election Sunday but fell short of a majority and will face a runoff, according to exit polls.
He will likely face former President Alan Garcia, a left-leaning populist, the polls showed. Eight candidates were vying to become the successor to disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori.
Toledo, 55, finished second to Fujimori in elections last year but ended up boycotting a fraudulent runoff vote against the autocratic leader, who fled Peru in November amid mounting corruption scandals.
Toledo received 40.1 percent of the votes, falling short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff, according to Apoyo, Peru’s most prestigious polling firm. Two other polling firms gave similar results.
Alfredo Torres, director of Apoyo, said 30,000 voters were interviewed and the margin of error was 5 percentage points.
Toledo faced his strongest challenge from Garcia, a discredited ex-president returned from exile, and Lourdes Flores, a conservative former lawmaker.
The Apoyo poll gave Garcia 24.3 percent and Flores 22.8 percent, but Apoyo said the race for the second spot in the runoff was too close to call until official results were in.
Garcia, 51, a tall, silver-tongued populist, led Peru’s government from 1985 to 1990. His administration left the country mired in hyperinflation and surging guerrilla violence.
Forced into exile two years after Fujimori was elected in 1990, Garcia returned in January when corruption charges against him expired. His phoenix-like resurrection is a tribute to his oratorical skills and, according to his foes, to the short memories of his countrymen.
”I don’t say I haven’t made mistakes. Certainly I have, but I accept them and have corrected them,” Garcia said after the exit polls were released, explaining why Peruvians should not fear his return to power.
Painting himself as elder statesman who has matured and put behind his youthful leftist ideas, Garcia said earlier that regardless of who wins the runoff he was ”convinced that things are going to improve because we are leaving behind a dictatorship.”
Flores, 41, is a member of Lima’s white elite with a reputation for honesty. She had been in second place in opinion polls going into Sunday’s election, but her campaign had begun to fade in recent days after her father made a racial slur against Toledo.
The election was Peru’s first since the ouster of Fujimori, Peru’s iron-fisted ruler for more than a decade.
A year ago, Fujimori trampled constitutional restrictions and won a third five-year term in elections marred by fraud and dirty tricks. But he fled in November amid corruption scandals involving Vladimiro Montesinos, his intelligence chief, and he now lives in self-imposed exile in Japan, his ancestral homeland.
In a televised speech to the nation Saturday night, interim President Valentin Paniagua assured Peruvians that this year’s special elections would be clean and fair.
Toledo, who has a doctorate from Stanford University and has been a visiting scholar at Harvard, is a ”cholo,” the Peruvian term for a person of mixed Indian and white blood. He has capitalized on his rise from shoeshine boy to an economist with the World Bank and on the resentment toward the European-descended elite that has long dominated politics in Peru.
Of Peru’s 26 million inhabitants, 45 percent are Indians and another 37 percent are of mixed Indian and white. No Indian or mestizo has been freely elected in Peru’s history although several have come to power through military coups.
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