- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

LIMA, Peru — Ollanta Humala, an ideological partner of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, finished first in a hotly contested three-way presidential race, but will face a runoff against the second-place finisher, according to partial results released last night.

If successful in next month’s runoff, the architect of a failed military coup would be expected to join an emerging axis of leftist Latin American leaders, including Mr. Chavez, President Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Evo Morales in Bolivia.

Election officials said it could be days before it was known whether second place would go to Lourdes Flores, a free-trade advocate who promotes foreign investment, or Alan Garcia, a center-leftist former president. The two were separated by less than seven-tenths of a percentage point.

Backed by Peru’s indigenous voters lured by his gestures to the poor, Mr. Humala was ahead of the other two candidates, with 30.14 percent of Sunday’s vote. Mr. Garcia had 24.87 percent, and Mrs. Flores had 24.2 percent, with 79 percent of the votes counted.

Observers say Mrs. Flores would likely beat Mr. Humala in a runoff, picking up the majority of votes that were cast in favor of Mr. Garcia. But a race between the two leftists would be harder to call because their differences aren’t as pronounced.

Yesterday, before a late-afternoon upsurge by Mr. Garcia, optimism that Mrs. Flores would make it to the second round pushed Peru’s currency to a five-week high while stocks and bonds gained, according to Bloomberg News.

Dennis Jett, a former U.S. ambassador to Peru, said many of Mr. Garcia’s votes would likely go to Mrs. Flores, adding that “votes for Garcia are votes of frustration” by people with “a short memory, who seem to forget that his presidency from 1985 to 1990 was one of manifest incompetence and corruption.”

Nelson Manrique, Peruvian author and historian at the Catholic University in Lima, said polls conducted before the election showed 7 out of 10 of Mr. Garcia’s votes would go to Mrs. Flores in a runoff.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer and political commentator, said Mr. Garcia would likely strike a deal to back Mrs. Flores if he lost.

“I can see him trying to negotiate a deal with Flores, because he wants to be seen as responsible, and supporting Humala wouldn’t help him with the middle class, which he needs” for any future plans, Mr. Vargas Llosa said.

However, he said, part of Mr. Garcia’s political base is warm to Mr. Humala’s promises, especially his plan to control natural resources, and would likely reject appeals to support Mrs. Flores.

Business groups and many Peruvians of European descent are uneasy about Mr. Humala’s plans to tax foreign corporations and pursue redistributive social policies that would steer wealth to millions of poor Peruvians, about 50 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Unlike Mrs. Lourdes, who stands to become Peru’s first female president, Mr. Humala opposes a U.S. free-trade agreement with Peru, which was recently signed and is awaiting congressional approval in both countries. He has also said he would industrialize coca production.

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