Peruvians voted Sunday on whether Keiko Fujimori, daughter of an ex-president jailed for massacres, should become their first female leader in an election marred by alleged vote-buying and deadly attacks.
The 40-year-old daughter of former leader Alberto Fujimori survived attempts to ban her from the race and widespread mistrust over her father\’s legacy to top the opinion polls ahead of the vote.
She was expected to win through to a second-round runoff against one of her nearest rivals: ex-prime minister and Wall Street banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, or left-wing lawmaker Veronika Mendoza, 35.
Keiko Fujimori started the day by cooking sausages in front of the television cameras at her home as her two daughters, husband and mother sat at the breakfast table.
Later she smiled broadly as she cast her vote in the posh Surco district of southern Lima and then struggled with her bodyguards through a mob of television cameras back to her car.
Polling officially started at 8:00 am (1300 GMT) and was due to close at 2100 GMT, though some voting stations in Lima opened their doors about an hour late, AFP reporters saw.
Observers complained that the electoral process was undermined when half the candidates dropped out or were excluded from the running under a tough new electoral law.
Fujimori and other leading candidates were accused of wooing voters with gifts. She and Kuczynski were cleared of the charges.
Three opinion polls published on Friday showed Fujimori was likely to win about a third of the vote, short of the simple majority needed to win outright.
Nine other candidates have either been excluded for irregularities or dropped out for lack of support. One, Gregorio Santos, is running for office from a jail cell where he is detained on corruption charges.
The leader of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said the January electoral reform that allowed the candidates to be excluded risked turning it into a "semi-democratic election."
Alberto Fujimori\’s dark decade in power from 1990-2000 lives in the memory of many Peruvians.
Now 77, he is in jail for crimes against humanity. The courts held him responsible for the massacre of 25 people he said were terrorists in 1991 and 1992.
But many voters love him for crushing the Shining Path communist guerrilla group that carried out attacks and kidnappings.
The conflict reared its head on Saturday, when four soldiers transporting electoral material and a civilian were killed in an attack by remnants of Shining Path still hiding in the jungle, officials said. A separate attack injured two more soldiers.
"That is why we want more security," said Wilfredo Pena, a 55-year-old caretaker who voted for Kuczynski under cloudy skies at a school in Lima.
"We want a change — safety for citizens and job security."
He rejected Keiko Fujimori however "because of the bad experience of the first (Fujimori) government. We do not want more of the same."
Eighteen-year-old student Angela Rios, voting for the first time, backed Fujimori.
"Hers is the best-organized party. She will strengthen the economy and improve education," Rios said.
"You cannot judge a person on what their father did."
Officials vowed the attacks would not disrupt the election. They said 50,000 troops would be deployed to guard polling stations.
Despite his authoritarian rule, Alberto Fujimori liberalized the economy and oversaw an economic boom. Growth has slowed in recent years under outgoing President Ollanta Humala.
Kuczynski has vowed to create jobs by boosting business and growth. Mendoza has promised to strengthen state control over the country\’s energy reserves.
Luis Benavente, head of the polling firm Vox Populi, said voters are "fed up not so much with the economy as with politics, because of corruption."
"We have come to a debacle, such deep chaos that the country has to react," he told AFP.