Former Wall Street star struggles for votes in Peru

LIMA Tue Feb 22, 2011 3:10pm EST

LIMA (Reuters) - Presidential hopeful Pedro Pablo Kuczynski had a stellar Wall Street career and is widely seen as qualified to lead Peru, but he is struggling to win over poor voters who view him as a light-skinned outsider.

Kuczynski, 72, is in fifth place in most polls ahead of the April 10 election, and has taken to belting out Andean tunes on his classical flute and touring with a popular motivational speaker to energize his flagging campaign.

He is a former World Bank economist highly respected in global finance and policy circles. Peruvians remember him as the influential finance minister and prime minister under former President Alejandro Toledo, who is running again this year and leads polls.

But unlike Toledo, who plays up his indigenous roots in a country where most people have them, Kuczynski is known locally as "The Gringo." His parents were European immigrants, he holds degrees from Oxford and Princeton, and he spent years working at New York investment houses.

"Kuczynski represents a more orthodox approach to economic policy, certainly his career has been very market oriented," said Bertrand Delgado, senior economist at Roubini Global Economics in New York. "But Peru is a very diverse country and it needs a popular leader."

Kuczynski has never held elected office and has a hard time broadening his appeal. On top of that, his campaign message is hardly unique as all but one of his rivals pledge to continue the pro-investment policies that have helped Peru grow nearly as fast as China in recent years.

He says his experience distinguishes him from other candidates, preparing him to spread Peru's wealth more equitably and turn the Andean nation into a developed economy.

To boost his campaign, he teamed up this month with Miguel Angel Cornejo, a Mexican motivational speaker known for filling stadiums across Latin America.

"In the last 10 years, our economic output has quadrupled and our exports grew five times bigger. The money is there -- what we're missing is the organization that gets it to you," Kuczynski told a crowd last week, in an apparent dig at outgoing President Alan Garcia.

Garcia has overseen an economic boom but Peru's poverty rate is still a high 35 percent even as global mining and oil firms expand their operations in a country where commodities exports traditionally drive growth.

"What's going to happen when copper supplies decrease, the price of gold drops and the mines run out? " Kuczynski said, calling for an "education revolution" in a speech at San Marcos University, a breeding ground for leftist rebels in the 1980s.

If elected, Kuczynski says he would give up the U.S. passport he obtained while working abroad. But for many Peruvians, the campaign promise is not enough.

"People know he is a skilled economist, but they don't know what he's like as a person," said Manuel Torrado, president of Datum political consultancy in Lima. "He's just not connecting with ordinary Peruvians."

(Editing by Terry Wade and Kieran Murray)

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