Elections here have delivered a mandate for an extensive reshaping of Peru's stricken economy and increased the likelihood of a confrontation with its foreign bank creditors, politicians and other analysts say.
Alan Garcia, the 35-year-old center-left leader who won a commanding plurality in yesterday's first-round presidential vote, has promised an economic "revolution" that will shift resources from the cities to the countryside and detach national development from dependence on foreign capital.
At the same time, some leaders of Garcia's Peruvian APRA party and economists working on possible government programs say a Garcia administration could reject cooperation with the International Monetary Fund and seek a radical revision of payment terms for the country's $13 billion foreign debt.
"The next government is not going to accept the standard rules of the game of the international financial system, and this is perfectly clear," said Manuel Moreyra, an independent economist considered a leading candidate for a top economic post in a Garcia government. "It is not going to accept the system because it is completely unjust."
The strong political base for such a challenge by Peru was demonstrated by Garcia's projected total of more than 47 percent of the vote in a field of nine candidates, and the apparent gain by the APRA of majorities in at least one of the two chambers of the new Congress.
Running a distant second to APRA in both the presidential and congressional vote was the Marxist-led United Left coalition, which received about 22 percent of the vote in preliminary calculations unofficially reported by the Peruvian media. The third-place finisher was projected to be the conservative Democratic Convergence ticket, with about 15 percent.
If the official vote count, expected to take as long as a month, shows Garcia with less than half of the total votes, a runoff for the presidency would be scheduled between Garcia and United Left candidate Alfonso Barrantes, the mayor of Lima. However, a range of political leaders appeared to accept Garcia as the de facto president-elect, and Barrantes said the United Left might consider withdrawing from a runoff. Retiring President Fernando Belaunde Terry told a news conference that he considered a runoff unnecessary because "the Peruvian people have given their definite word."
The clearest result of the election's first round, several analysts said, was the combined vote of more than 70 percent for left-of-center policies.
In contrast, Belaunde's center-right party was dealt a crushing defeat, receiving no more than 5 percent of the vote nationwide in preliminary counts.
"This has been a popular triumph," said Barrantes after visiting Garcia in his apartment last night. "The right has been erased from the scene in this country."
A second loser in the national vote appeared to be the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrilla movement, whose five-year-old war against Belaunde's government has led to more than 5,000 deaths. Despite the group's call for an election boycott, absenteeism of only about 12 percent was reported, and efforts by the insurgents to disrupt the balloting through violence were weak and ineffective.
Garcia, who appeared on the balcony of party headquarters last night to address cheering supporters, interpreted the vote as a clear mandate for peaceful change.
"We have been left a fatherland like this, indebted, sacrificed, hungry and with violence," he said. "Now the Peruvian people will change the government, change the economy, change the politics and reaffirm our democracy."
As the front-runner in the presidential election for more than a year, Garcia avoided announcing specific policy plans, focusing instead on a nationalistic theme of uniting Peruvians.
However, Garcia and other APRA leaders have indicated that Peru's worsening economic situation will require a mixture of internal austerity measures and hard-line demands on foreign banks for easier debt payment terms.
Peru's economic agreements with both the IMF and private banks have been suspended, and the country is nearly $300 million behind in loan interest payments. Inflation is accelerating from its rate of 120 percent last year, and the Belaunde government has had trouble meeting monthly payrolls.
A range of APRA leaders and economists advising the party have said that Garcia probably will order new belt-tightening measures to control inflation and reduce the government budget defict. "With the type of situation we are inheriting, standards of living are going to keep on falling in Peru for six to 18 months," Moreyra said. "We can't expect a real improvement for at least two years."
While such austerity is consistent with programs negotiated by the IMF with other Latin American countries, APRA leaders say other parts of their platform are "incompatible" with a traditional IMF agreement. Garcia has said that he will raise tariffs selectively to protect local industry, slow the rate of devaluation of Peru's currency and focus resources on food production, rather than on export industries. Some analysts expect that the new government may become the first major South American debtor to break openly with the IMF and demand unprecedented concessions from commercial banks, such as the limitation of debt payments to a fixed percentage of Peru's exports.
"There are not going to be any negotiations with the IMF," predicted Moreyra, "because the IMF has shown that it is technically incompetent and its programs do not work. If this means an interruption of international payments, it doesn't matter. The new government has to create the conditions by which the debt can be paid."