Toledo wins Peru presidential vote
LIMA, Peru (AP) – Alejandro Toledo rose from a poor childhood as a shoeshine boy to become Peru’s first freely elected president of native Indian descent on Sunday, defeating controversial ex-president Alan Garcia.
The election came seven months after Peruvians drove authoritarian President Alberto Fujimori from office in a corruption scandal, and signaled a return to democratic voting after elections tainted by fraud.
With few reported incidents of trouble at polling places, international observers called it Peru’s cleanest elections in years.
”Tonight Peruvians celebrate the triumph of democracy,” Toledo told thousands gathered in front of the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Lima. ”I swear, brothers and sisters, I will never let you down.”
With 70 percent of the vote counted, Toledo had 51.6 percent to 48.3 percent for Garcia, said Fernando Tuesta, the nation’s top election official.
”The time has come to extend Dr. Toledo my congratulations for his triumph on this democratic day,” Garcia said, offering his help in the new administration.”
International monitors – including former President Carter – had said previous elections were deeply flawed. On Sunday, there were few reported incidents of trouble at polling places.
”I want to congratulate the Peruvian people for a clean election and a demonstration of civic maturity,” U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton said.
Toledo may well be the first president in Latin America to win after making Indian rights a top campaign issue. There have been other Peruvian presidents of native Indian descent, but they took power in military coups.
The 55-year-old capitalized on his dark, chiseled Indian features and short stature to appeal to a mostly poor native Indian and mixed-race population that accounts for more than 80 percent of Peru’s 26 million people.
Toledo’s strength came also from his leadership role in the campaign to unseat Fujimori, whose regime collapsed in November amid mounting corruption scandals. Toledo withdrew from a runoff against Fujimori in May of last year, accusing him of planning to rig the results.
Like Garcia, Toledo campaigned largely on a populist platform. He has pledged to create 2.5 million jobs, raise salaries for public workers and lower taxes.
”He headed the fight against Fujimori’s corrupt government. He deserves to be president,” vegetable seller Apolonio Mayta said before the vote was tallied. The 53-year-old makes a precarious living working off her tricycle in a Lima shantytown.
Garcia, 52, used scintillating oratory to overcome memories of his calamitous 1985-90 presidency, marred by corruption, guerrilla violence, food shortages and hyperinflation.
In recent weeks, he had narrowed the gap with Toledo, who only a few weeks ago led most polls by as many as 20 percentage points.
Garcia returned to Peru in January to seek re-election after nearly nine years in exile waiting for corruption charges against him to expire.
His charisma and ability to transmit hope to Peruvians, especially to young voters who don’t remember his government, boosted his candidacy, and despite his loss he emerges as Peru’s strongest opposition voice and a force to be reckoned with in the future.
”His first government left a bad memory, but we should give him another chance,” said Maria Moya, a 35-year-old divorced mother of two who moved to Lima from a village in the Andes highlands.
”Anybody can make mistakes, and he has said he is sorry for his errors.”
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