December 13, 2013
Left-winger Humala leads Peru election: quick count
Left-wing former army commander Ollanta Humala narrowly led the right-wing daughter of a jailed ex-president in Peru's presidential election, quick counts showed after a bitter campaign divided the country.
Humala was in front by between 2.6 and 3 percentage points, three polling firms said after counting samples of official ballots. Their exit polls earlier showed him with a lead of at least 5 points over lawmaker Keiko Fujimori.
Analysts said it was still too early to call the election, although Humala's followers were already celebrating and the mood among Fujimori's supporters was one of gloomy resignation.
Fujimori said she would concede defeat if official results due out later on Sunday confirmed the exit polls and quick counts indicating that she would lose.
"Humala Presidente!" supporters in downtown Lima chanted, waving red and white flags and dancing in a crowd of about 5,000 people.
"Keiko is done," read one banner as an effigy of her burned. She is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who was president throughout the 1990s until his government collapsed under a cloud of corruption and human rights scandals. "Fujimori never again," read another banner.
Only 200 people were at Keiko Fujimori's rally.
Election officials were running slightly behind schedule as they worked to get what they called a representative batch of ballots before providing first official results.
Humala, 48, has moderated his anti-capitalist views since narrowly losing the 2006 election, but investors still view him warily.
Peru's currency PEN=PE and stock market .IGRA plunged in recent weeks whenever polls showed Humala gaining ground, and they were expected to fall again on Monday if he wins the election.
Finance Minister Ismael Benavides told Reuters the government had a "contingency plan" to inject liquidity into markets if they suffer a speculative attack on Monday, even as Humala's campaign reiterated vows to prudently manage the economy.
"Markets are going to be very volatile," said Benito Berber of Nomura Securities in New York. "(But) once Humala starts to appoint moderate people in the cabinet, I think we'll see a correction overall to a level pretty close to where they were pre-election."
During a bruising campaign, Humala attacked investor favorite Fujimori, 36, over her father's past, including his decision to shut down Congress to consolidate power in 1992.
The younger Fujimori shot back by warning Humala might dismantle the free-market reforms that were begun by her father and helped spur an unprecedented economic surge over the past decade after years of chaos and guerrilla wars.
The elder Fujimori also defeated a Maoist rebel army but fled into exile in 2000 as his government was hit by scandals. He is now serving a 25-year prison sentence for graft and using death squads against suspected leftists.
Appealing to undecided voters in a runoff campaign that has polarized Peru, Fujimori apologized for her father's excesses, while Humala promised to maintain economic stability and sound public finances and respect foreign investors who plan to pour $40 billion into mining and oil projects over the next decade.
If the election is ultimately too close to call, there could be a recount, extending the volatility in financial markets.
Humala's military training is ingrained in his daily routine. A keen runner, he jogs around his neighborhood at the crack of dawn each morning, and keeps his hair cropped short. He is diligent and his entourage still calls him "comandante".
"We have to remember the past when it's time to vote," Humala told Reuters as he ran in southern Lima shortly before polls opened on Sunday, referring to what he calls the elder Fujimori's "dictatorship".
The warning struck a chord with some voters.
"Ollanta will give opportunities to everyone. We want change in this country. There have been lots of promises but we are still living in poverty," said Juan Castilla, 50, who works at a hospital.
Although the two contenders come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, critics say both have an authoritarian streak. They also have some policies in common -- both have called for better social programs and say the rapid growth of the past decade has failed to lift up the one-third of Peruvians mired in poverty.
Humala, who led an unsuccessful revolt in 2000 to demand the elder Fujimori step down, has courted mostly rural Peruvians who have long felt ignored by elites in the capital.
Fujimori is popular with the urban poor and women, and made the run-off when three moderate candidates split the centrist vote in the first round.
Humala has taken to wearing ties, carrying a rosary and emulating the conciliatory style of center-left leaders like former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
He promises to respect Peru's many free trade pacts and central bank independence, and to run a balanced budget. But he also favors policies that would increase state control over natural resources in one of the world's top mineral exporters.
Critics say Humala has not abandoned the hard-line ideology instilled in him by his father, a prominent radical. They warn he would take over private firms and change the constitution to allow himself to run for consecutive terms like his one-time political mentor, Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez.