Peruvians are expected to favor Keiko Fujimori in the first round of a presidential election on Sunday, although critical voters who have not forgiven the authoritarian rule of her father are likely to ensure a June run-off.
The U.S.-educated former congresswoman has worked to distance herself from imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori after she lost the 2011 election. A center-right politician, she has vowed to preserve democracy and keep 25 years of free-market policies intact.
The 40-year-old Fujimori enjoys a double-digit lead, but is believed to be about ten percentage points short of the simple majority needed for an outright win. Support for her slipped after tens of thousands protested against her on April 5, 24 years after her father shut Congress with the support of the army.
"Fujimori lost three points, probably because of the marches, and that makes a first-round victory increasingly more distant for her," said Alfredo Torres, head of Ipsos polling.
An Ipsos poll on Saturday evening gave her 35.8 percent of valid votes, while Wall Street favorite Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, had 21 percent, statistically tied with left-wing nationalist Veronika Mendoza, 35, with 20.1 percent of votes.
Peruvians go to the polls to choose the successor to Ollanta Humala with their country of 30 million on track to become the world's No. 2 copper producer after nearly two decades of uninterrupted economic growth. Some question why poverty persists with such vast mineral wealth, however, and rising crime is a primary concern for others.
Fujimori's father, a right-wing populist who is serving out a 25-year prison term for human rights abuses and corruption during his 1990-2000 rule, is fondly remembered by some for building rural schools and hospitals and implementing neo-liberal reforms that remain in place. Keiko Fujimori famously became Peru's first lady at 19 when her parents divorced.
"Keiko has strong proposals, she is not her father though not everything he did was bad," said Jorge Mendoza, 33, a court technician and Fujimori supporter in Lima.
The elder Fujimori said his hard-line measures were necessary to defeat the Maoist-inspired Shining Path insurgency.
In a reminder of that bloody conflict, rebels presumed to be remnants of the Shining Path ambushed soldiers in the Andes mountains early Saturday, leaving three dead and six injured.
After dancing at her closing rally on Thursday, Fujimori told orange-clad supporters she is the only candidate with "the guts to put an end to crime."
She has promised to boost economic growth threatened by falling metals prices by tapping a rainy day fund and to issue new debt to fund badly needed infrastructure.
Underscoring the danger of Peru's roads, a bus carrying people to vote in the election plunged into a river on Friday, killing at least 23.
Human rights groups say Fujimori's election would be an assault on hard-won democracy. They cried foul when two leading candidates were barred late in the process and said that decision favored Fujimori. The head of the Organization of American States warned elections would be "semi-democratic."
Opponents of Fujimori are mostly split between former World Bank economist Kuczynski, and Mendoza, a congresswoman and trained psychologist from Cuzco who wants to scrap Peru's 1993 constitution and limit mining. Kuczynski has called for supporters of other minor candidates to rally around him as the only option for a "sensible center."
Polls show Kuczynski has a better chance of beating Fujimori in a run-off, though at least one poll last week said Mendoza could tie with her in an eventual second round.
(Note: election law forbids publication of polls in Peru a week prior to April 10 voting)