Stories Behind Peruvian Runoff Better Than Fiction

Peruvians elect their next president on Sunday and the candidates seem like they've been plucked from a political novel. The daughter of a jailed former president faces the ex-army commander, who tried to depose him. NPR's Juan Forero has the story.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We go now to another divided nation, Peru, where voters go the polls tomorrow to elect their next president. The division is over two different candidates. One, the daughter of a former president who was convicted of widespread human rights abuses and corruption. The other, a form army lieutenant colonel who once led an uprising against his government.

Of course the stakes are high. Whoever wins will oversee South America's fastest growing economy.

NPR's Juan Forero has this report.

FORERO: Keiko Fujimori is 36, has an Ivy League education, and was elected to Peru's congress. But she's best known as the daughter of former president of Alberto Fujimori. He's beloved in some circles for having tamed inflation and crushed two rebel groups in the 1990s. He's also in jail, serving a 25-year term for authorizing death squad killings.

And Transparency International, the corruption watchdog, lists his government as among the seven most corrupt in modern world history. It's a heavy load for Keiko Fujimori.

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FORERO: In Sunday's debate she tells her adversary, Ollanta Humala, that she's the candidate, not her father.

Humala, too, has been trying to run against his past - and distance himself from his own family. His father was head of a group that holds that Perus Indians are racially superior to the light-skinned elite. And his brother is in jail, having led an uprising as an army officer that killed four policemen. Humala, whos 48, led his own coup attempt in 2000, in the fading months of Alberto Fujimoris quasi-dictatorship. His biggest political problem, though, has been his past ties to fiery anti-American President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who polls show is not popular in Peru.

Mr. OLLANTA HUMALA (Peruvian Nationalist Party): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Questions about his democratic credentials recently prompted Humala to swear, hand on a Bible, that he would honor Perus constitution.

Peru found itself with such polarizing candidates after a first round of voting in April. Three centrist candidates defused the moderate vote. That opened the door for Fujimori and Humala in a country thats seen its economy grow an average of 6.3 percent every year since 2002.

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FORERO: In her TV spots, Fujimori cast herself as a moderate who maintains successful economic policies while providing social programs. Indeed, she has the support of the business community, which fears that Humala would nationalize companies and take other anti-capitalist stands if he wins the presidency.

Coletta Youngers, though, says Keiko Fujimoris presidency could well be the second coming of Alberto Fujimori. Youngers is an expert on Peru at the policy group, Washington Office on Latin America.

Ms. COLLETTA YOUNGERS (Senior Associate, Washington Office on Latin America): Although she has tried very hard to distance herself during the second round of voting, the reality is that she ran on a platform that her fathers presidency was the best that Peru has ever had.

FORERO: Indeed, many of Alberto Fujimoris associates are either running his daughters campaign or will enter Congress as members of her movement.

Gustavo Gorriti, a Peruvian investigative reporter, says Alberto Fujimoris supporters long tried to get him back in office after his regime collapsed.

Mr. GUSTAVO GORRITI (Journalist): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Since he wound up in jail, Gorriti says, the alternative was Keiko Fujimori.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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