In Peru Election, Expats Take an Outsized Role



BUENOS AIRES--In the tightest presidential election in modern Peruvian history on Sunday, every vote will count--even those cast here in Argentina.

Opinion polls show the conservative Keiko Fujimori and leftist Ollanta Humala in a technical tie in their runoff race, giving the 750,000 Peruvian expatriates who are eligible to vote, around 4% of the total electorate, a more crucial role than ever before.

"The Peruvian immigrant community knows that its votes could decide the election, and that's a lot of responsibility," said Carlos Gallardo Guarniz, a Peruvian residing in Argentina who runs a magazine called "El Sol del Peru."

Most of the votes from Peruvians residing in countries such as Argentina, the U.S. and Spain are expected to go to Ms. Fujimori, analysts say. Since that foreign backing doesn't show up in public opinion polls taken in Peru, that could provide her with a latent source of support of between .5% and 1% of total votes, analysts say.

During the first round of voting in April, with five major candidates running, Ms. Fujimori got 21.98% of the 400,000 expatriate votes cast, slightly more than the center-right candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski with 21.92%. Mr. Humala was in fifth place among expats with 9.88% of the vote. About 23% of the votes were null or blank.

"Peruvian immigrants tend to be working class and have the same values as those in the neighborhoods in Lima where Keiko does well," said Julio Carrion, a political scientist at the University of Delaware.

Mr. Carrion, who is backing Mr. Humala in the runoff, added that Ms. Fujimori's advantage with expatriates could be at least partially offset by another hidden fringe of the electorate: those people living in far flung villages of the Andes. Mr. Humala is popular in the isolated hamlets of south and central Peru, where many pollsters never tread.

Ms. Fujimori, on the other hand, has ties to the U.S, having studied business at Boston University and Columbia University. And she is married to New Jersey-native Mark Vito Villanilla.

Norberto Curitomai, who runs a bus company in Clifton, N.J, and is heading up Ms. Fujimori's campaign in the state, said Peruvians living abroad distrust Mr. Humala because they have seen more of the world than those who stayed in Peru. "I think we're more aware of what's going in countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia that have been hurt by Humala's kind of policies," he said.

Mr. Curitomai added that many Peruvians like him abandoned the country in the late 1980s during a disastrous populist government of the current president, Alan García, which produced inflation of 7,000% annually and allowed Maoist guerrillas to run rampant. "Keiko's father came in and resolved those problems," he said. Ms. Fujimori's father, Alberto Fujimori, served as a popular president from 1990 to 2000 before being ensnarled in a series of corruption scandals and human rights abuses that led to a 25-year prison sentence.

Mr. Humala was making a late push for the expatriate vote. On Friday, his noted he was giving an interview on CNN's Spanish network geared toward Peruvians abroad. At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Humala complained of the way that expatriate votes are tabulated. "Today the votes that Peruvians make abroad go to the foreign affairs ministry," he said. "They should go to the ONPE," he said, referring to the government vote-counting agency.

Mr. Humala has maintained throughout his campaign that the current government of Mr. García and its cabinet ministries are biased against him.

Mr. Humala's message has reached some expatriate like Jorge Yeshayahu Gonzales Lara, who lives in New York and runs a blog called La Diaspora Peruana. Mr. Humala is the better candidate, he said, "because he has formed coalition to unite all Peruvians."

Mr. Gonzales Lara allows that many expats don't see it that way. "Most of the young people of the new generation sympathize with Keiko," he said. "They aren't aware of history and wouldn't know anything about human rights violations, even if you showed them the pictures."

--Robert Kozak contributed to this article.