June 5, 2016 / 5:11 AM / in 2 years

Peru's Kuczynski narrowly leads Fujimori in election

LIMA (Reuters) - Center-right economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski had a slight lead over Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of an imprisoned former president, as early results came in from Peru’s presidential election on Sunday.

Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski waves at a breakfast meeting in Lima, Peru, June 5, 2016. REUTERS/Paco Chuquiure

The 77-year-old Kuczynski had 50.59 percent support while Fujimori had 49.41 percent with about 52 percent of votes counted.

Earlier, polling firm Ipsos said its quick count of a sample of votes gave Kuczynski, known in Peru as PPK, about 50.5 percent and Fujimori 49.5 percent, a technical tie.

Another pollster, GfK, gave Kuczynski 50.8 percent of votes to Fujimori’s 49.2 percent.

“The most likely scenario is that PPK wins the election and becomes the next president of Peru,” said Alfredo Torres, an analyst with Ipsos, although he cautioned it was too early to call the election because it was so close.

Kuczynski, a former prime minister and investment banker, portrayed himself as an honest and experienced leader and has promised to clean up corruption and revive sluggish economic growth.

“We take this preliminary verdict with optimism, but with modesty,” a grinning Kuczynski told cheering supporters from a balcony at his Lima campaign headquarters.

He told the crowd to be vigilant until the final official results were announced.

Fujimori, 41, a former congresswoman, had a big lead in the first round of voting in April and was ahead in most opinion polls a week ago. But her lead melted away in the final days of campaigning in Peru’s fourth democratic election since the end of her father Alberto Fujimori’s decade-long rule in 2000.

Fujimori, who narrowly lost her first presidential bid against left-leaning Ollanta Humala in 2011, said in an upbeat speech on Sunday evening that rural votes from “deep Peru” still needed to be counted.

“This is a tight vote without a doubt ... what we’re seeing is the vitality of democracy in our country, and that fills me with pride,” Fujimori said in front of her orange-clad supporters at her campaign headquarters in Lima.

Seeking to be the South American country’s first female president, she has spent the past five years trying to broaden her appeal beyond loyalists to her controversial father.

Alberto Fujimori was credited with defeating violent Shining Path guerrillas and building schools and hospitals in rural areas but his authoritarian style divided Peru and he is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses.

‘BETTER OFF’

In this year’s campaign, Keiko Fujimori ousted her father’s staunchest defenders from her party’s congressional ticket and stepped up campaigning in provinces she lost to Humala.

Still, many voters remained wary after scandals linked her new associates to money laundering and drug trafficking. Fujimori has defended her team and said her party was the victim of a smear campaign.

“Peru will be much better off with PPK. I‘m very proud that Peru remembered what happened years ago. I have family members who had to leave the country because of Fujimori,” said Alexandra Gamarra, a 25-year-old student who celebrated the early results at Kuczynski’s campaign headquarters.

If he wins, Kuczynski will have to reckon with a solid majority of Fujimori’s party in Congress and a leftist party that has promised not to align with either of them.

While both candidates are fiscal conservatives who would maintain a free-market model in the resource-rich Andean economy, their styles and approaches differ widely.

The campaign pitted the Fujimori family’s brand of conservative populism against Kuczynski’s elite background and stiff technocratic style, which has curbed his appeal in poor provinces and working-class districts.

Fujimori repeatedly promised to respect democratic institutions and waged a more energetic campaign than her rival, performing regional dances in far-flung villages where she promised to deliver tractors and portrayed her rival as out of touch with struggling Peruvians.

Additional reporting by Marco Aquino and Ursula Scollo; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Peter Cooney and Kieran Murray

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