A leftist former military officer who promises to favour the poor by redistributing Peru's mineral wealth is expected to win a presidential election but fall far short of the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off.
That made the tight battle for second place in yesterday's vote crucial. Tied runners-up in an election-eve poll were Keiko Fujimori, the 35-year-old daughter of the imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori whom Peruvians alternately adore and vilify, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a 72-year-old former World Bank economist and investment banker.
Ollanta Humala, the frontrunner, who has worried foreign investors by promising a greater state role in the economy and exporting less natural gas while making it cheaper for Peruvians, prevailed in the first round of the 2006 presidential election only to lose a run-off.
This resource-rich, corruption-bedevilled Andean nation has been notorious for its volatile politics since the 1980s, when its discredited political parties all but dissolved and elections became more about personality than ideology.
Yesterday's vote, after which the two top candidates will meet in a run-off on 5 June, is the most unpredictable in decades. Analysts say the electorate is even more fragmented than in 2006, when the outgoing President, Alan Garcia, beat Mr Humala, by 53 percent to 47 percent.