February 21, 2016 / 6:27 PM / in 2 years

Close runoff seen in Peru election as Fujimori loses ground: poll

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian presidential election favorite Keiko Fujimori is losing ground to technocrat Julio Guzman, whose candidacy faces legal questions, and may be heading toward a tight run-off vote, according to a poll published Sunday.

Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party greets supporters during a campaign rally in San Juan de Lurigancho, on the outskirts of Lima, February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Janine Costa

Center-right Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has consistently topped the polls and remains the frontrunner to win the first round of the April 10 election. Some 30 percent backed her in the latest Ipsos survey, published in the newspaper El Comercio, down from 33 percent in the previous poll.

Guzman, who has risen quickly in the polls since the start of the year despite questions over the legality of his candidacy, would take around 18 percent, according to the poll.

If no candidate gains half the votes in the first round, the top two go to a runoff in June. In such a case, the result would be very close, with Fujimori likely to gain 45 percent of support to 43 percent for Guzman, the poll showed.

Peru’s electoral board has blocked Guzman’s party from registering for the race and are considering whether to ban him, saying his 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.

Calling himself a “centrist reformist,” Guzman has promised to take the country back from a “corrupt” political elite that he says is now pulling strings to have him barred from the race.

The emergence of a potential close rival in the second-round run-off is becoming a serious threat to Fujimori, said local Ipsos head Alfredo Torres.

“A second round between Fujimori and Guzman winds up with a minimal difference, inside the margin of error,” he said.

Third-placed candidate, economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, polled 9 percent, while millionaire businessman Cesar Acuna has the support of 6 percent. Both have seen their support slide as negative media coverage has dented their appeal, as well as potential voters defecting to Guzman.

The electoral board is due to decide in the coming days if Guzman can continue in the race.

“If the decision goes against him, his sympathizers will feel that their right to vote has been expropriated,” said Torres.

The Ipsos poll surveyed 1,815 people between February 13 and 18, with an error margin of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Reporting by Marcos Aquino, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Alan Crosby

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