Peru's presidential contenders vow to reduce wealth gap

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Peru's presidential contenders vow to reduce wealth gap

Peru's presidential contenders vow to reduce wealth gap
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Another aspiring Latin American left wing leader is inevitably going to draw comparisons. Is Ollanta Humala another Lula? Or the Peruvian Chavez, as the outgoing president Alan Garcia called him?

Humala, a former military man, is the frontrunner ahead of Sunday’s election first round, given up to 28 percent of the vote in opinion polls.

Keiko Fujimori is several points behind, on around 21 percent. As president, her father once imprisoned Humala. Now Alberto Fujimori is doing time himself for bribery and human rights abuses.

Keiko, bidding to be Peru’s first woman president, says her father defeated Maoist rebels and saved the economy from collapse. She wants to secure him a pardon.

El Cholo, “the Indian”, is aiming to be president for the second time. Alejandro Toledo says he wants to “finish the job” and eradicate poverty. His first attempt struggled. But the 64-year-old’s poll rating has plummetted. A reputation as a whisky-drinking partygoer has not helped.

All five candidates have promised a better redistribution of wealth while preserving the market economy.

Largely thanks to mineral exports, Peru’s economic growth has regularly topped 6% in recent times, rising to 8.7% last year.

In the capital Lima and elsewhere a middle class has flourished. The country has climbed 25 places in the UN’s ranking of human development.

But it has been hindered by allegations of corruption, and an ongoing failure to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

The World Bank has hauled up Peru over its lack of social progress despite its solid growth.

The country is 23rd out of 26 in a Latin American league table of access to sanitary facilities. A third of the population of 29 million live below the poverty line on an average of less than three euros a day.

Millions of indigenous Peruvians continue to be excluded from the country’s gains.

Ollanta Humala no longer wears red T-shirts when campaigning. Peru has changed and so have I, he insists, but he still vows to help the underprivileged. “The poor’s time has come,” he says.

“Those who have money have access to quality healthcare and those who don’t, the poor, only stand and watch,” he told a recent rally.

Humala has vowed to create a free healthcare system, and to raise taxes on mining companies and use the money to reduce poverty.

Much may hinge on whether voters want the man dubbed a Chavez-in-waiting.

Peru’s famous author Mario Vargas Llosa has reportedly said both frontrunners would be a catastrophe.

An omen maybe? Humala’s campaign has been helped by the 2002 election-winning team of Brazil’s ex-president Lula.