Peru's presidential election
Second time’s the charm

by L.C. | LIMA

IN MARCH Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru’s Nobel Prize-winning novelist, compared a hypothetical presidential run-off between Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori to a choice between “AIDS and terminal cancer”. Last month it was indeed Mr Humala, a populist nationalist, and Ms Fujimori, the daughter of an authoritarian former president, who advanced to the second round. A dismayed Mr Vargas Llosa reluctantly backed Mr Humala. By the narrowest of margins, his countrymen appear to have done the same in yesterday’s election. With 84% of ballots counted, Mr Humala is winning by 50.7% to 49.2%, and holds the lead in 17 of the country’s 26 regions.

A 48-year-old retired military officer, Mr Humala swears he is not the same candidate who ran in 2006 with the support of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s leftist president. He has distanced himself from Mr Chávez’s radicalism, and hired advisers from the party of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s moderate former president. At his closing rally on June 2nd, he pledged to keep Peru’s orthodox economic policies in place while ramping up programmes to spread growth more equally, like a free day-care scheme and a pension plan for people over 65 who lack them. If he can gain congressional approval, he also wants to raise the minimum wage and impose a windfall tax on mining companies. Félix Jiménez, his economic adviser, promised that Mr Humala would lead “a government of national reconciliation, of consensus.”

Ms Fujimori, a congresswoman, tried to cast doubt on Mr Humala’s transformation, accusing him of retaining ties to Mr Chávez. And late in the race Roger Noriega, a conservative American former diplomat, accused Mr Humala’s campaign of taking $12m from the Venezuelan leader. However, no evidence emerged to support the allegation.

Ms Fujimori may not have spent enough time dispelling concerns about her own candidacy, particularly those of rural voters. Two years ago she said she would pardon her father, Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption and human-rights abuses. Although she later backtracked, her running mates and top advisers all served in Mr Fujimori’s government, as did many candidates from her party’s congressional slate. Tony Palomino, a community activist in Villa El Salvador, in southern Lima, said voters rejected Ms Fujimori because they sensed that she was not in charge of her own campaign. “The people around her, her spokespeople, they were all her father’s allies. This created doubts,” he said.

Mr Humala, who will be inaugurated on July 28th, will not have long to celebrate his victory. Most investors would have preferred Ms Fujimori, and Juan Carlos Eguren, a conservative congressman, called on the president-elect to name his economic team quickly in order to avoid upsetting the markets. Mr Humala will also need to piece together an alliance in Congress, where his coalition has just 47 of 130 seats. One potential partner that would give him a majority is Perú Posible, the party of Alejandro Toledo, a former president. With such a weak mandate, Mr Humala will need the consensus-building skills he says he has learned in order to govern effectively.