Peruvians, beset by inflation and a ruthless guerrilla movement, go to the polls Sunday to choose a new president following one of the bitterest and most divisive campaigns in its history.
The campaign has been characterized by open government intervention in behalf of one candidate, by confrontations between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches and by charges of racial bigotry."Never has a campaign been so dirty," said Fernando Rospigliosi, a sociologist and political editor of the popular Caretas magazine.
Pollsters refused to predict the outcome of the runoff election between novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and Alberto Fujimori, an agricultural engineer and son of Japanese immigrants. Polls in the final week have shown the vote margin between the two is too small to project a winner.
Vargas Llosa, 54, an internationally known novelist, leads the center-right Democratic Front coalition. He promises to revive Peru's failing economy by cutting government bureaucracy, selling off state-owned businesses and introducing a free-market economy.
Fujimori, 51, is backed by his newly created Change 90 party and has the support of the left as well as the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance party of outgoing President Alan Garcia.
Fujimori came from obscurity two weeks before the April 8 first round of voting to place second behind Vargas Llosa. Sunday's runoff vote was scheduled because neither had the absolute majority required to be elected in the earlier contest that was crowded with candidates.
Among problems the next Peruvian president will face when he takes office July 28:
-Annual inflation of 2,000 percent. The inti, worth 7 cents when it was introduced in 1986, has shrunk to less than two-thousandths of a penny.
-Two leftist insurgencies. Political violence takes nine lives a day, and at least 18,500 have been killed in the past decade.
-A foreign debt of $20 billion, the highest per capita in South America. International agencies stopped credit when Peru ceased making payments on the debt in 1986, and several foreign banks are suing.
-Labor and public unrest. Street sweepers, prison inmates, even hospital patients hold strikes and protests for higher pay and better services. Four of five Peruvians lack regular employment.
-Drug trafficking. Peru is the largest producer of coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine, and more than 200,000 Peruvians make their living from it.
-Destroyed or worn-out public facilities. Major highways are crumbling for lack of maintenance, crippling the transport of produce from farms in the interior.