April 14, 2016 / 4:25 PM / a year ago

Mendoza says Kuczynski cannot rely on her supporters to win Peru presidency

Peru's presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza talks to supporters at her campaign headquarters at the end of the first round of Peru's presidential election in Cuzco, Peru, April 10, 2016. REUTERS/Janine Costa

LIMA (Reuters) - Veronika Mendoza said Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the former Wall Street investor who narrowly defeated her to win entry into Peru’s run-off presidential election, could not rely on her supporters to beat the front-runner.

Mendoza, a 35-year-old leftist lawmaker, told Reuters late on Wednesday that it was too soon to say if her party might eventually endorse a vote for Kuczynski to defeat their mutual opponent, Keiko Fujimori, whom she deemed “the greater evil” in the run-off.

Fujimori won 40 percent of valid votes on Sunday, 10 points short of what was needed for an outright victory. She will go head-to-head in June with Kuczynski, who secured 21 percent of the ballots. Mendoza won 19 percent and is out.

The conservative daughter of Peru’s imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori faces stiff opposition from Peruvians wary of a return to the country’s authoritarian past.

“If Fujimorism returned, I think it would really be the worst,” Mendoza said. “We might find a position along those lines, against Fujimorism without that meaning a blank check for Mr. Kuczynski.”

Kuczynski, a 77-year-old centrist former prime minister, portrayed Mendoza as dangerous for the country’s long stretch of economic growth. He is now expected to sweep up scores of new votes from Fujimori’s opponents, but he struggles to connect with rural voters, and others view him as too similar to the front-runner.

“I think Mr. Kuczynski would have to pull off a whirling juggling act to be able to represent anti-Fujimorism,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza cited Kuczynski’s endorsement of Fujimori in the 2011 presidential run-off election and his support for legislation to allow elderly prisoners like Alberto Fujimori, now imprisoned for human rights abuses and corruption during his 1990-2000 government, to finish their sentences at home.

Mendoza said she thought her supporters in key southern Andean regions would also be turned off by Kuczynski’s background on Wall Street and position as prime minister when Peru signed controversial natural gas export contracts.

“Even though part of that vote is clearly anti-Fujimori, I have a very hard time seeing it moving to Kuczynski,” Mendoza said.

Peruvian markets jumped on Monday after election results showed pro-business candidates Kuczynski and Fujimori would move on to the second round.

Mendoza said she did not see any common ground between her proposals and Kuczynski‘s, and her party would be a vocal opposition bloc in Congress no matter who wins in June.

Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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