Skip to main content

Runoff likely in tight Peruvian presidential race

By the CNN Wire Staff
A woman with her toddler votes Sunday in Lima, Peru.
A woman with her toddler votes Sunday in Lima, Peru.
  • An exit poll shows Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori in the lead
  • Five candidates are vying for the country's top spot
  • Management of the economy is a top issue
  • A runoff election would be held in June

Lima, Peru (CNN) -- Left-leaning Ollanta Humala looked poised to win the first round of Peru's presidential election, but is not likely to garner enough votes to avoid a runoff, an early exit poll showed Sunday after voting closed.

An Ipsos Apoyo exit poll showed him with 31.6% of the vote, followed by Keiko Fujimori in second place with 21.4% of the vote. They were trailed by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, with 19.2% of the vote, and Alejandro Toledo, who got 16.1% of the total vote, according to the poll.

While Humala looked certain to get a spot in the runoff, Fujimori and Kuczynski were too close for pollsters to call.

Official results in the tight presidential race that centers on how to best manage Peru's robust economic growth are expected later Sunday.

Peru can expect growth of 7% this year, according to the World Bank, and is one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. The country overcame the global financial crisis relatively unharmed, maintaining GDP growth, employment creation and poverty reduction, according to Peru's finance ministry.

The good news comes with high expectations from Peruvians, who want to see the rewards of this progress in tangible ways. While the economy as a whole has done well, salaries have remained depressed during the same period and poverty is stubbornly high.

So the big question for Peruvians Sunday was: Who will make the most of the recent combination of good macroeconomic management and high commodity prices?

They had five main choices who were so close in the polls that pollsters anticipated there would be a second round of voting.

Peruvian law forbids the publishing of poll numbers one week prior to election day, but the trend from all pollsters previously was a rise for Humala, who entered the final stretch as the leader of the pack.

The nationalist Humala represents the most radical departure from the rest of the group. The former army officer, who participated in a failed uprising in 2000, lost to current President Alan Garcia in the second round of the last presidential elections in 2006.

His previous presidential bid was sunk in part because of accusations that he admired and would emulate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who embarked on a socialist reorganization of his country.

Humala denied this year that he would follow in Chavez's footsteps, and portrayed himself as an admirer of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who represented a more center-left position.

"I think (Humala) has tried much harder to appear more moderate, more centered," said analyst Giovanna Penaflor before the election.

Running close to him is Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori. At 36, she is the youngest of the candidates. At 19, she was the country's first lady for her father, who was locked in a messy dispute with Keiko's mother.

"She is young, which is both a positive and negative characteristic," Penaflor said. "It puts her close to a very important segment of voters, but it detracts from her experience."

Critics have accused her of campaigning more to free her father, who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights crimes, but she says his case should rest on decisions from the judiciary, not the executive.

Another former president, Toledo, also went into this weekend's elections with the potential to advance to a second round. Toledo championed market-oriented policies that helped Peru grow during his term from 2001 to 2006, but was unpopular in the polls.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was another surging candidate. The economist is a one-time minister of energy and mines, minister of economy, and prime minister. In addition to his Peruvian citizenship he holds an American one, which has been the source of criticism. But Kuczynski has embraced his Peruvian nationality on the campaign trail, even adopting the cuy, a Peruvian guinea pig served as a traditional dish, as his mascot.

The final leading candidate was Luis Castaneda, a former mayor of Lima.

"He is an efficient and successful public administrator that has done works for the good of the community, and Lima has recognized that with a very high approval rating," analyst Luis Benavente said before the vote. "But in the campaign, he was unable to turn it into a national symbol."

Current Peruvian President Garcia, who is barred from running for a consecutive term, said Sunday he was proud of the peaceful election process.

"I'm convinced that this will be a peaceful and very orderly transition of power as prescribed by law so that our country's progress may continue uninterrupted," he told CNN affiliate America TV.

The top two vote-getters will face each other in a June 5 runoff.

"Now we will have to choose between Humala, who is with Chavez, and Keiko, whose father is the king of corruption," Pierina Sanchez, a frustrated voter in Lima who supported Kuczynski, said Sunday.

CNN's Rafael Romo and journalist Maria Elena Belaunde contributed to this report