Peru's political system has been ailing for decades. Corruption, violence and deep economic inequalities have left it weakened. Now, the first round of voting in the presidential race, which took place Sunday, threatens to leave the country in critical condition.
From a field of five candidates, two emerged as front-runners likely to move on to a runoff election June 5. Both appear wanting in experience, and concerns about their commitment to democracy prompted Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa to say the decision will be like "choosing between AIDS and terminal cancer."
The top vote-getter, Ollanta Humala, is a former military officer turned fiery populist who promises to redistribute the country's wealth and rewrite the constitution, raising concerns that he might try to extend his term in office. Once a vocal admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he has tried in recent years to tone down the anti-capitalistic rhetoric that had prompted comparisons to Bolivia and Ecuador's leaders and to position himself nearer the center.
His closest rival is expected to be Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a jailed president convicted of human rights abuses and rampant corruption. A congresswoman, she has relied on Alberto Fujimori's former cohorts to steer her campaign and has promised to pardon him if elected. Like Humala, she has pledged to help the poor but has offered few other details of her program beyond declaring her support for the death penalty in cases of the rape of minors.