Nationalistic former army officer Ollanta Humala took a narrow lead in Peru’s presidential elections on Sunday, closely followed by conservative candidate Lourdes Flores and center-leftist former president Alan Garcia. According to provisional returns Humala obtained 27,59 per cent of the vote -far less than the 50 per cent needed to be proclaimed president-elect in the first round- followed by Flores, 26,72 per cent, and Garcia, 25,70.
Exit polls showed a race too close to call with a runoff between the two top finishers expected in late May or early June. Mr. Humala, who was taunted by hundreds of opponents as he cast his ballots in the capital, Lima, will probably be in the second round but it was not clear yet wether Garcia or Flores would challenge him in June.
According to analysts, the former businesswoman Lourdes Flores would easily defeat Humala in an eventual runoff, but the nationalistic leader is the favorite if finally faces the Socialdemocratic candidate, Alan Garcia.
A 43-year-old populist new to politics, Humala has raised fears among many middle- and upper-class Peruvians by identifying with Chavez, Venezuela's militantly anti-U.S. president. Hundreds of protesters trapped the former army lieutenant colonel and his wife for nearly an hour at their Lima polling station with chants of "Assassin" and "You're the same as Chavez." A few threw rocks.
The "assassin" chants were a reference to allegations that Humala committed human rights abuses in 1992 as the commander of a counterinsurgency base in Peru's eastern jungle. He denies any wrongdoing, but allegations gained force as were confirmed by the Human Rights National Assembly.
Humala has a poor record on defending human rights while battling maoist guerrillas in the eighties. As an army officer, Humala was trained by the Ronald Reagan-led US army at the notorious School of the Americas based in Panama in 1983. Most of Latin American bloody far-right dictators of the Cold War were trained at the School of the Americas following instructions about how to fight insurgency by torturing and mass-killing leftist militants.
Many civilians have acussed Humala of tortures and even the dissapearence of their relatives and friends. He has also gone to jail after leading a poorly planned coup against former president Alberto Fujimori in October 2000. At that time, observers commented that Humala’s uprising was a screen to undercover the escape of former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos to Venezuela, as Fujimori was preparing his exile in Japan. Montesinos, partner of Humala in 2000’s coup, has been arrested and facing trial on charges of crimes against humanity, blackmailing, corruption and assassination. Fujimori, has been recently arrested in Chile as he was trying to return to Peru from his exile in Japan.
Humala, a law-and-order nationalist, said voters had a chance to "begin the nation's great transformation." Despite his background, Humala has heavy support among Peru's poor, who feel bypassed by the country's recent strong economic growth. His image as a stern military man who has arrived to fight crime and punish the corrupt has been a powerful factor.
Humala’s family has been also the center of more than one controversy during the campaign. His mother said that all homosexuals should be executed, one of his brothers vowed for the execution of incumbent president Alejandro Toledo and his 120 lawmakers and the other one said that Toledo’s wife was a “motherfucker”.
Former president Alan Garcia, 56, has warned that electing Humala would be launching Peru "into a void," and President Alejandro Toledo urged Peruvians in a televised speech Saturday not to elect someone who would bring "the authoritarianism and instability that we've known in the past." The comment by Toledo, who by law cannot run for a second consecutive term, led Humala to complain that it was directed against him and that it violated campaign regulations requiring government neutrality.