Outsider scents victory in Peru poll

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The Independent US

Peruvians vote for a new president today but if the incumbent, Alberto Fujimori, manages to get an absolute majority his opponents are likely to file fraud charges and force a second round.

Analysts say President Fujimori, 61, has increasingly been showing dictatorial tendencies. Judges who ruled against his reinterpretation of the constitution have been sacked and hounded by tax collectors on trumped-up charges, opposition candidates have received death threats and one rival's car was blasted with bullets.

Observers from the US National Democratic Institute, who declared Peru's chances of holding fair elections "irreparably damaged" because of Mr Fujimori's roving goon squads, list violations including appropriation of government resources to finance his conservative alliance, Peru 2000.

Instead, voters choosing from 11 parties are likely to pick "El Cholo" - Alejandro Toledo, who won only 4 per cent of the vote in the 1995 elections, but whose ratings soared as he faced down the attacks on the campaign trail. Now, he is expected to get 49 per cent of the votes in a second round, compared with 45 per cent expected for the president.

Mr Toledo's fight, reportedly against the opposition, includes him filing a complaint on Friday for a kidnap attempt on his 17-year old daughter. His French-born wife, Eliane Karp, gets pelted so often with eggs and stones she wears a bullet-proof vest and a hard hat in public. But, fluent in the Indian language, Quechua, her translations of her husband's speeches have gained him support.

Mr Toledo's Peru Posible party offers hope for the country's impoverished Indians. "I'm a stubborn rebellious Indian," he tells the crowds, promising jobs and empowerment for the marginalised Cholos. He is the first politician with Indian blood to have a serious chance of gaining power.

But like Mr Fujimori, the 54-year-old is also a free marketeer, urging privatisation of national industries and encouraging international investment - policies blamed for unemployment and recession.

Mr Fujimori is supplying daily milk and meat to 35 per cent of Peru's 24 millions. Recently he promised to give away 800,000 plots of land to the poor - once re-elected.