LIMA, Peru — Early results in Peru's presidential election showed a former World Bank economist beating the daughter of imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori in a vote Sunday that is widely seen is a referendum on the disgraced strongman's legacy.
With 36 percent of the votes tallied, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski had 50.6 percent support compared with 49.4 percent for his rival Keiko Fujimori. Electoral officials cautioned that the first votes counted were from the capital Lima and other urban areas and that votes from Peru's hinterland and embassies abroad would take longer, perhaps even days, to come in.
Still Kuczynski supporters were optimistic after two quick counts, based on the counting of a statistical sample of real ballots cast, showed him defeating Fujimori by at least 1 percentage point. While that is within the statistical margin of error, the pollsters have a track record for accuracy.
As the results came in, Kuczynski addressed throngs of cheering supporters waving red-and-white Peruvian flags from the balcony of his campaign headquarters, urging them to be vigilant against fraud at the ballot box but otherwise sounding as if he had already been declared the winner.
"We're going to have a government built on consensus. No more low blows or fights," said Kuczynski, who supported fellow conservative Fujimori in the 2011 runoff won by President Ollanta Humala.
Meanwhile, Fujimori put on a brave face, dancing to her campaign theme song on a flat-bed truck and telling supporters to await official results expected later Sunday.
"We're going to wait with prudence because all night votes will be coming in from the provinces, from abroad and from the rural voters of deep Peru," she said.
A potential swing vote in a close race could be the 885,000 Peruvians eligible to vote abroad — about 3.8 percent of the electorate. Ipsos' quick count results account for the foreign vote.
Keiko Fujimori had won the first round of voting by a 20-percentage point margin but her wide lead over Kuczynski melted away in the days before Sunday's runoff vote.
It would be a stunning turnaround for the ex-World Bank economist, who managed to narrow the lead by abandoning his above-the-fray, grandfatherly appeal and hitting Fujimori hard.
"Peru is on the threshold of becoming a narco-state," the 77-year-old candidate, who would be Peru's oldest president, told supporters at his closing campaign rally in Lima.
The reference wasn't just to Alberto Fujimori's well-known ties to corruption, organized crime and death squads, for which he's serving a 25-year jail sentence, but an attempt to draw attention to a string of scandals that have hobbled Fujimori in the final stretch. The most notable scandal was a report that one of her big fundraisers and the secretary general of her party was the target of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Peru is the world's largest producer of cocaine.
Her running mate, Jose Chlimper, a Cabinet member at the end of Alberto Fujimori's government, is also in hot water for orchestrating the broadcast of a doctored audio tape in an attempt to clear the name of the party boss.
"If Fujimori wins the big question is whether she'll be able to control her party," Eduardo Dargent, a political scientist at Lima's Catholic University, said prior to the voting.
PPK, as Kuczynski is almost universally known in Peru, is also benefiting from a last-minute endorsement by the third-place finisher in the first round of voting, leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, the protagonist of a massive anti-Fujimori demonstration this week the likes of which Peru hasn't seen since the turbulent end of Fujimori's rule 16 years ago.
Fujimori, who served as first lady in her father's administration after her parents' divorce, has tried to contain her rival's rise by taking distance from her father's crimes, even signing a pledge not to pardon him if elected.
"I'm the candidate, not my father," she has frequently repeated.
At the same time, she's vowed to bring back the "iron hand" style of government for which many still revere the elder Fujimori, who is credited with taming Maoist Shining Path rebels as well as the country's hyperinflation. Instead of rebels, Keiko Fujimori is promising to wield an iron fist against crime, a top voter concern. Among her proposals: build jails in high-altitude prisons in the Andes to punish and isolate dangerous criminals.
She's also trying to cast her rival, the son of a Jewish-Polish immigrant who is married to an American and spent decades in business outside Peru, as part of the white elite establishment that has traditionally overlooked the needs of the poor.
Regardless of who wins, Keiko Fujimori has already reshaped Peru's political landscape.
In April, her Popular Force party won 73 of 130 seats in the unicameral congress, setting Fujimori up to be the first president since her father in the 1990s to govern with a legislative majority. Her detractors say that's a risk to Peru's already-weak system of checks and balances.