Sun, Apr 03, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Half of candidates out of Peru election

SOWING UNCERTAINTY:EU observation mission head Renate Weber said that allowing for candidates to be excluded at a ‘very late stage’ in the electoral process affects citizens

AFP, LIMA

Half of the candidates in Peru’s presidential election have abandoned or been banned from next week’s polls and one of the leading contenders might follow, plunging the South American nation into political uncertainty.

An electoral law in force since January has ruled several candidates out of the running in the April 10 contest. One is even running his campaign from a jail cell.

Further disruption could come if accusations of vote-buying lead to the elimination of banker and economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who is running second in the polls to the conservative Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peru’s jailed former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori.

Their faces are already printed on 20,000 ballot papers, but they have each been accused of handing out money or gifts to voters during their campaigns.

The new law passed in January cracks down on such activities.

The 40-year-old Fujimori was spared on Friday when the National Electoral Board ruled her candidacy could move forward. A local electoral court is hearing charges against the 77-year-old Kuczynski. A ruling is due soon.

Critics say the new rule is being applied arbitrarily.

“We are the only country in the region with a law that allows for candidates to be banned from an election,” electoral expert Fernando Tuesta said.

He said that has not happened since 1950, when the nation was under a military dictatorship.

Electoral board president Francisco Tavara said its judges were impartial.

The law originally aimed to strengthen the multi-party system by eliminating vote-buying, Tuesta said.

However, lawmakers toughened it so that now a candidate can be excluded, even at the last minute before voting starts.

“It has brought us to a dead end,” Tuesta said.

Electoral observers say the law sows uncertainty among voters.

“It allows for candidates to be excluded at a very late stage in the electoral process. That is a problem — it affects candidates and citizens,” said Renate Weber, head of the EU’s observation mission.

The election race started with 19 candidates. Five were banned or dropped out before ballot cards were printed, and four more have given up since.

Centrist economist Julio Guzman was barred for irregularities in party primaries.

Another previous favorite, millionaire former governor Cesar Acuna, was banned for giving out money at a rally.

Of the remaining 10 contenders, leftist former governor Gregorio Santos is campaigning from jail where he is being held over corruption charges.

An investigation was launched on Friday into former Peruvian president Alan Garcia, who is running fifth in the polls.

Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro on Friday wrote on Twitter — after meeting with Guzman — that election officials should let the candidates kicked off the ballot run to avoid a “semi-democratic” election.

The elections are a decisive moment for Peru, one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America. While several of its major neighbors have slowed down, its economy grew by more than 3 percent last year.

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who took office in 2011 and has seen his popularity plummet, is barred from standing for re-election, while his Nationalist Party has pulled its presidential and congressional candidates because of little support. By law, if a group does not receive at least 5 percent of the vote, they are no longer formally recognized as a political party.

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