Garcia Regains Peru Presidency in Runoff

The Associated Press
Monday, June 5, 2006; 1:59 PM

LIMA, Peru -- Alan Garcia staged a remarkable comeback in Peru's runoff election, beating a fiery nationalist backed by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to regain control of the country 16 years after his first presidential term ended in economic ruin and rebel violence.

"I want our party this time to demonstrate to the Peruvian people, who have called it to the highest responsibilities, that it will not convert the state into booty," Garcia said, referring to widespread corruption that marked his first term from 1985-90, when tens of thousands of party members landed state jobs.

Garcia said voters in Sunday's runoff had sent an overwhelming message to Chavez, the anti-American leader of Venezuela. They rejected the "strategy of expansion of a militaristic, retrograde model that he has tried to impose in South America," Garcia said.

Chavez had endorsed Ollanta Humala, a political upstart many Peruvians saw as dangerous to democracy. He extended his regional influence last year with the election of a loyal ally, Evo Morales, as Bolivia's president. Like Morales, Humala had pledged to punish a corrupt political establishment and redistribute wealth to his country's poor Indian and mestizo majority.

Garcia, 57, held an insurmountable lead of 53.5 percent against 46.5 percent for Humala with 91 percent of the vote counted, Peru's national electoral authority said Monday.

The margin was expected to shrink, however, as Humala's support is strongest in rural areas where vote reporting is slower. Unofficial partial ballot counts by two respected polling companies and a citizen's watchdog group all gave Garcia more than 52 percent of the vote.

Humala, 43, who burst onto the political scene in 2000 while leading a small-scale military rebellion against then-president Alberto Fujimori's foundering corruption-riddled regime, appeared to accept defeat Sunday night. He said his fledging nationalist movement, formed in December, recognized the partial results and "saluted" Garcia and his party.

But his spokeswoman, Cynthia Montes, insisted he had not acknowledged Garcia's victory. Humala was emphatic Monday morning, telling reporters: "We are waiting for the results. I am going to wait. I feel like the winner. We have won. We have changed the political scenario of the nation."

Humala won a first round of voting on April 9 among 20 candidates. Garcia qualified with a razor-thin victory over the third-place candidate.

Garcia left office in disgrace in 1990 with Peru nearly bankrupt and battered by the devastating Shining Path insurgency. He fled into exile two years later when Fujimori tried to arrest him, returning in 2001 after the Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations on corruption charges against him had expired.

Garcia then made a spectacular run for the presidency in Peru's previous election, winning a spot in the runoff and narrowly losing to current President Alejandro Toledo, who is barred by law from seeking a consecutive term.

Seething ethnic and class resentments deeply divide this Andean nation, and Garcia acknowledged that one of his main challenges will be to rid the political class of corruption.

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