LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s “outsider” presidential hopeful Julio Guzman said Wednesday that street demonstrations would keep him in the race to April elections if his lawyers fail to keep him from being thrown out on a technicality.
Guzman, 45, has climbed rapidly to second place in polls on promises to take the country back from a “corrupt” political elite that he says is now pulling strings to have him barred from the race.
“What they’re doing is backfiring. People realize what they’re up to and their rage is growing,” Guzman said in an interview. “What they can’t avoid is mass mobilization.”
Peru’s electoral board has blocked Guzman’s party from registering for this year’s race and could invalidate his candidacy if it rejects his appeals.
The board has denied politics figured in its decision and said Guzman’s party broke a series of rules, including modifying its statutes in an assembly without enough advance notice.
The dispute has further muddled the outlook for this year’s elections as another candidate also faces possible disqualification amid plagiarism and vote-buying accusations.
Guzman, a technocrat now seen as the biggest threat to frontrunner Keiko Fujimori, said that if elected he would boost infrastructure spending through new debt and change the mandate of the central bank to include jobs as a priority.
He described himself as a “centrist reformist” and said he would be a Democrat if he were a politician in Washington, where he worked as an economist for the Inter-American Development Bank for 10 years.
Guzman said if disqualified, he would summon “millions” of Peruvians to peaceful marches to defend their right to vote for him. “The status quo historically has limits on its control of people. And those limits are set by the people,” he said.
It is unclear how many might take to the streets if he is barred. A vigil he held in front of the electoral board’s headquarters recently drew hundreds of supporters at most.
Guzman garnered 20 percent of voter intent in recent polls and was seen in the latest as virtually tied with Fujimori in a likely June runoff, a first for any of her rivals.
He has tapped a well of support from Peruvians hoping to vote for someone new in a race dominated by well-known but unpopular politicians who have sought the top job at least once before, including two ex-presidents.
Guzman has dubbed other candidates “dinosaurs” and said Fujimori represented the biggest threat.
Fujimori has vowed not to repeat the mistakes of her father, ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is prison for corruption and human rights abuses linked to his 1990-2000 government.
“I don’t believe her,” Guzman said. “It’s going to be the same dictatorship, the same authoritarianism we had in the 90s.”
But Guzman ruled out striking alliances or endorsing others to defeat Fujimori, saying they all represent the past.
“I didn’t come here to win a vice presidency or a post in Congress,” Guzman said. “I came here because I want to make the country better.”
Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Michael Perry