February 24, 2016 / 10:41 PM / 2 years ago

Peru electoral board keeps Guzman in April presidential elections

LIMA (Reuters) - A special electoral board in Peru on Wednesday opted not to bar “outsider” Julio Guzman from April elections for president, setting the stage for a likely tight battle between him and longtime front-runner Keiko Fujimori.

Peruvian presidential candidate for "Todos por el Peru" (All for Peru) Julio Guzman speaks to Reuters during an interview at his office in Miraflores, Lima, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Janine Costa

The country’s National Jury of Elections had blocked Guzman’s centrist party from this year’s elections because it broke a series of technical rules, which threatened to disqualify him.

But the Special Jury of Elections, tasked with approving candidates, said Guzman’s party amended the errors and was now enrolled. It also cited Guzman’s constitutional right to participate in elections.

Guzman, a 45-year-old economist who climbed rapidly to second place on pledges to take the country back from a corrupt political elite, celebrated the decision from the highland region of Cusco where he campaigned for the coveted rural vote.

“It’s amazing I got the news in Anta, where my grandmother was born,” Guzman said amid cheering supporters dressed in his party’s signature purple. “It’s beautiful, very exciting.”

Guzman, unknown to most voters months ago, has tapped a well of support from Peruvians looking for someone new in a race dominated by well-known but unpopular politicians.

He was the only candidate seen as virtually tying Fujimori in a likely June runoff, an Ipsos poll showed Sunday. Fujimori’s backing in a first-round vote slipped three points.

Fujimori, the rightwing daughter of jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori, enjoys a double-digit lead over Guzman but is not expected to garner enough votes to win outright April 10.

The legal dispute over Guzman’s candidacy, which dragged on for nearly a month, likely boosted his bid. He used the ample media coverage to rail against the “status quo” that he said was pulling strings to keep him from office.

However, his critics will likely cite the electoral board’s qualms with his party to argue Guzman was given unfair advantage. The board had said his party changed its statutes in an assembly without enough advance notice and necessary party members.

Guzman had said he would summon mass protests if needed to ensure a place in elections.

Guzman worked for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington for a decade and was briefly an official in President Ollanta Humala’s government. Humala cannot run for a second straight term and his candidate is trailing in polls.

Guzman has proposed ramping up infrastructure spending and changing the mandate of the central bank to make jobs a priority.

Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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