LIMA (Reuters) - Election observers from the European Union and the Organization of American States said Tuesday that the unprecedented decision by Peru's electoral board to bar two leading presidential candidates from April elections must be respected.
Both delegations also renewed calls, however, for reforms to Peru's electoral system so that candidates are not disqualified so close to elections.
Peru's electoral board tossed centrist technocrat Julio Guzman from the race after he rose to second in polls because his party did not comply with electoral procedures. Former governor Cesar Acuna was struck after he gave cash to voters while campaigning, in violation of a new law against vote-buying.
Critics have called the disqualifications, especially Guzman's, disproportionate and undemocratic.
But Renate Weber, the head of the EU election observation mission, said they must be respected. "I think the electoral board is well prepared to make these decisions," Weber told reporters at a briefing in Lima.
"We can't expect everything will go well, but our presence here is a message to the citizenry that if something bad happens we're going to immediately check it out," Weber said.
The controversy has shaken this year's race, stoking opposition to frontrunner Keiko Fujimori and threatening to tarnish the legitimacy of the next president. Guzman and his supporters have called his disqualification "fraud".
Sergio Abreu, the head of the OAS mission, emphasized that the electoral board was autonomous. "It has clear jurisdiction," he said in a separate press conference.
He added that his visit this week had been scheduled months ago and had "nothing to do with protests or events leading up to elections."
Thousands of protesters on Friday called for Fujimori to be barred from the race as well, accusing her of also breaking the law against vote-buying. She has denied doing so.
Peru's Prime Minister ruled out postponing the election.
Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by James Dalgleish