Snap analysis: Peru braces for polarized presidential run-off

By Helen Popper

LIMA (Reuters) – Left-wing Ollanta Humala won the first round of Peru’s presidential election on Sunday and looks set to face right-wing congresswoman Keiko Fujimori in a bruising June 5 run-off, quick counts and exit polls showed.

There is still a slim chance Humala could face former finance minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in the run-off, as election officials say it could take days to count all votes in the tight race for second place.

* Peru’s Nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa said a Humala or Fujimori presidency would be “a catastrophe,” because both figures are disliked by a majority whose votes splintered among three more moderate candidates. Both have support among poorer Peruvians and in rural areas. Humala burst onto Peru’s political scene in 2000 when he led a short-lived revolt against the government. Fujimori is shunned by many Peruvians because of her father, disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori who is now in jail convicted of corruption and human rights abuses.

* Polls show a virtual dead heat between Fujimori and Humala in the second round. They both have high disapproval ratings of about 50 percent, meaning the run-off will pose a dilemma for voters who did not support them in the first round. The key to victory in what looks set to be a close contest will revolve around both their ability to win over skeptics and play down weaknesses in the coming two months. That could be harder for Fujimori, who has not faced as much criticism as Humala in the first-round campaign.

* Humala only narrowly lost to current President Alan Garcia in a run-off in 2006. Garcia, like Fujimori, went into that run-off with high disapproval ratings. During this year’s campaign his support increased as he convinced voters he had left his radical past behind him. If he continues to preach “gradual change” in the vein of moderate Latin American leftist leaders, such as Brazil’s former President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, he will improve his chances of beating Fujimori.

* Voters’ biggest concern about Humala is whether he can be trusted to keep mainstream economic policies in place and ensure continued growth, whereas Fujimori is viewed as more market-friendly. Many Peruvians have fresh memories of the hyperinflation and guerrilla insurgencies of previous decades. They are wary about Humala’s past links to Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez, though he has stressed that the Venezuelan economic model “is not applicable to Peru.” Further guarantees to respect economic reforms credited with fostering growth in recent years could lift his support.

* Fujimori’s high disapproval ratings are due to her close association with her father’s presidency and imprisonment for corruption and human rights crimes stemming from his crackdown on insurgencies in the 1990s. That means it might prove harder for her to win over voters who did not support her in the first round than for Humala. Because she and her supporters strongly defend her father’s legacy — she hopes his conviction will be overturned — Fujimori will find it hard to distance herself from him as a way to court a broad base of voters in the second round.

* Both Humala and Fujimori could be forced to make compromises on their agenda in office. Congressional allies of Humala will likely form the biggest single bloc in Congress, but they will lack a majority, exit polls showed. Public expressions of support by the defeated first-round candidates could be decisive, especially if they were to unite behind one of them.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

Snap analysis: Peru braces for polarized presidential run-off