06/06/2016 1:30 AM AEST

Peru's Presidential Election Comes Down To A Tight Run-Off Vote

Polls showed a dead heat between candidates before the vote.

Janine Costa / Reuters
Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori waves while arriving for a breakfast meeting in Lima, Peru, June 5, 2016.

LIMA, June 5 (Reuters) - Peruvians voted on Sunday in a tight run-off for the presidency, choosing between right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a jailed former president, and former World Bank economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Fujimori's lead over Kuczynski, 77, melted away in recent days, evoking memories of her close defeat to outgoing President Ollanta Humala in 2011.

In opinion polls by Ipsos and GfK taken on Saturday, Kuczynski pulled slightly ahead of Fujimori, though the two remained in a statistical dead-heat .

The 41-year-old Fujimori has spent the last five years seeking to broaden her appeal beyond loyalists to her father, Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for graft and human rights abuses.

She kicked his staunchest defenders off her party's congressional ticket and stepped up campaigning in provinces she lost to left-leaning Humala in 2011. Still, many voters remain wary as some of Fujimori's new associates become mired in fresh scandals.

"I remember what her father was like, and I think she would be the same. He controlled the media and was extremely corrupt," said Angela Agrela, a housewife who was voting for Kuczynski.

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.

Mariana Bazo / Reuters
People stand in line to cast their votes in Peru's presidential election at a voting station in Lima, Peru, June 5, 2016.

The election pits 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, who has repeatedly said democracy is not at risk, waged a more energetic campaign than her rival, whirling out regional dances in far-flung villages where she has promised to deliver tractors and portrayed her rival as out of touch with struggling Peruvians.

Many in rural provinces have fond memories of her father, who built schools and hospitals and is credited with ending the violent Shining Path insurgency.

The younger Fujimori has responded to the top voter concern, crime, with a hard-line stance that includes support for the death penalty and promises to lock up the most dangerous criminals in five new prisons she would have built high in the Andes.

Asked why her running mate, who journalists claim gave them a tampered recording, was not at a traditional election-day breakfast on Sunday, Fujimori said she had opted for a family meal with her two daughters and American husband.

Fujimori defends her associates and says her party has been the victim of a smear campaign before Peru's fourth democratic election since her father's authoritarian government collapsed in 2000.



Kuczynski, a former prime minister, has portrayed himself as honest and experienced enough to make good on promises to revive sluggish economic growth, and has captured the anti-Fujimori vote despite having endorsed her over Humala in 2011.

"I hope democracy and unity win," he said at his breakfast in Lima, surrounded by the beat of Afro-Peruvian drummers.

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

The Ipsos poll seen by Reuters on Saturday said a strong debate performance, corruption allegations plaguing Fujimori's inner circle, and the support of a former leftist candidate had helped Kuczynski in the final days of the campaign.

But if recent history is any guide, Fujimori has a good chance of eking out a victory. Every president since 2000 has first faced defeat in a run-off race in the previous election.

"She's ready, and deserves the chance to clear her father's name," said Santiago Celez, a 70-year-old taxi driver. "Not by pardoning him as some think but by simply doing things right."