LIMA, Peru (AP) — All bets are off in Peru's presidential race after the disqualification of the moderate economist who was the chief challenger to front-runner Keiko Fujimori, whose father is a disgraced former president.
Analysts say the decision throws the April 10 contest into confusion. It will not necessarily give Fujimori the strength to win the simple majority needed to avoid a second round of voting, but does make it likely she will face a weaker challenger in an eventual runoff.
Peru's electoral council on Wednesday blocked the candidacy of Julio Guzman, saying the technical mechanism by which his party chose him violated the party's own internal rules.
Critics of the ruling described it as petty, and warned the disqualification undermines confidence in the country's democratic process.
A few thousand people marched through the capital Friday night demanding that the electoral council also disqualify Fujimori, a center-right politician whose father, former President Alberto Fujimori, is imprisoned for corruption and authorizing death squads. Peru's institutions have struggled to reclaim legitimacy since the strongman's time in office.
The Organization of American States, which is sending an observer mission for the election, expressed concern over the last-minute elimination of Guzman. He has vowed to fight his disqualification and continue to campaign, but his chances of reversal are slim.
The country is in for political drama on par with the El Nino weather phenomenon, political analyst Jorge Saldana Ramirez said.
"In these remaining four weeks, we're going to see a political El Nino, with floods of complaints lodged by politicians, a drought of proposals, inundations of economic resources, and heat waves in the exchanges among candidates," he said.
Guzman had surged in opinion polls, with recent surveys saying he had the backing of about 17 percent of voters, while 35 percent supported Keiko Fujimori, who has maintained a strong lead throughout the race. No other candidate polled above 10 percent.
Officials also disqualified candidate Cesar Acuna on Wednesday. He had been running a distant fourth in polls.
Keiko Fujimori narrowly lost a 2011 presidential runoff to current President Ollanta Humala. She struggled in that election with the legacy of her father's time in office.
Guzman, a technocrat with a doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland, formerly worked as a deputy minister in Humala's administration.
It's unclear whether moderate and leftist voters will be able to coalesce around a single candidate to challenge Fujimori in a runoff. Polls show that half of the country's voters are still undecided or open to changing their preferences.
"Back in December and January we were talking about it being unclear who would take second place. Now we're right back there," Urpi Torrado, director of the polling firm Datum, told local media outlet Peru21.