LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru's electoral council on Wednesday barred the main challenger to front-runner Keiko Fujimori from the country's April 10 presidential election on a technicality.
It voided economist Julio Guzman's candidacy by a vote of 3-2, claiming the mechanism by which his party chose him violated its own internal rules.
Political analysts called the ruling petty and arcane and noted that never before in Peruvian history had a candidate been so stricken from a presidential race.
Critics claiming political chicanery noted that no one found fault with how Guzman was chosen until it became clear in early March that he had become the lone serious challenger to the daughter of disgraced and imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.
Guzman refused to accept the ruling, calling it "flagrantly illegal and unconstitutional" in a statement posted to his Facebook page.
He said a delegation from the Organization of American States had contacted his campaign and would be arriving in Peru on Monday.
"It shouldn't be elections officials who decide who becomes president," said Guzman's spokesman, Daniel Mora.
Peru's institutions are still weak and corruption-riddled two decades after Alberto Fujimori's autocratic rule.
Guzman had surged in opinion polls that show him now preferred by about 17 percent of voters behind 35 percent for Keiko Fujimori, whose father is imprisoned for corruption and authorizing death squads. With no candidate expected to win the required majority of votes on April 10, Guzman would have likely faced Keiko Fujimori in a June 5 runoff.
No other candidate has been polling above 10 percent — including former two-time President Alan Garcia.
Keiko Fujimori narrowly lost a 2011 presidential runoff to outgoing President Ollanta Humala.
Guzman said he will appeal the ruling, but experts say a reversal is extremely unlikely.
Guzman is a 45-year-old former deputy minister in Humala's administration. A technocrat with a doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland, he had previously worked for the InterAmerican Development Bank for a decade.
The electoral council also disqualified a second candidate on Wednesday.
It said Cesar Acuna had broken the law by handing out cash at a campaign event. The private university entrepreneur had recently been running a distant fourth in the polls, dropping more or less out of contention after a plagiarism scandal involving his own higher education.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.