April 8, 2016 / 5:02 PM / a year ago

Race for run-off spot heats up ahead of Peru election

A combination picture of the three Peruvian presidential candidates (L-R) Keiko Fujimori, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Veronika Mendoza ahead of the April 10 presidential election. REUTERS/Janine Costa (left & center) and Mariano Bazo/Files

LIMA (Reuters) - The race for second place in the first round of Peru’s presidential election on Sunday was still wide open on Friday, with polls split over who would earn the chance to face long-time front-runner Keiko Fujimori in an expected run-off.

Peru’s stock market closed 4 percent higher after Wall Street favorite Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was seen in second place with 20.8 percent of valid votes, ahead of leftist Veronika Mendoza with 16.5 percent, according to a survey by GfK.

Polls by Ipsos and Datum showed the two second place contestants within one point of each other, though Mendoza’s momentum appears to have slowed.

“Veronika hasn’t increased voters so much in recent days. She rose a lot since March but less recently,” Urpi Torrado, of pollster Datum, told foreign reporters at a news conference.

Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, was still seen about 10 points short of the 50 percent of votes needed to win outright. Her support has slipped since tens of thousands protested against her on Tuesday.

A Fujimori-Kuczynski run-off in June would likely ensure Peru’s free-market model of the last quarter century prevails in the top metals producer, no matter the winner.

Mendoza’s surprise surge in recent weeks has spooked markets as she has swept up scores of undecided voters with promises of radically transforming the country’s mining-dependent economy.

Kuczynski, a 77-year-old son of European immigrants who had struggled to gain traction with poor rural voters in the last election, has ramped up efforts to portray Mendoza as a threat to Peru’s long stretch of economic growth.

A video called “24 Hours to Save Peru” launched on YouTube urged voters to rally behind Kuczynski to avoid a “disastrous second round” that would force Peruvians to choose between Fujimori and “a communist model that would destroy Peru.”

Mendoza’s supporters on social media dismissed the attack as desperate fear mongering.

Mendoza, dressed in red, chose Lima’s historic May 2 Plaza to end her campaign, praising the history of union and human rights protests that had taken place there.

“We aren’t here to make adjustments, patches, or to apply makeup, we want a real transformation,” she told supporters in a possible jab at outgoing President Ollanta Humala, a former leftist who governed more moderately than expected.

Mendoza would like Peru to become less reliant on mining and wants to curb exports of oil and natural gas to prioritize domestic demand.

Additional reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Ursula Scollo; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Andrew Hay

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