Peru's Fujimori signs pledge to avoid authoritarian ways of father

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s presidential front-runner Keiko Fujimori signed a pledge at a debate on Sunday committing her to avoiding the authoritarian ways of her father, in a final appeal to middle-ground voters ahead of next week’s ballot.

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Fujimori, 40-year-old daughter of ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has long enjoyed a double-digit lead over her nine rivals but she is not expected to win the simple majority needed to avoid a presidential election run-off in June.

The center-right candidate has struggled to calm fears that she will reactivate the government of her father, now serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption.

“I know how to look at the history of my country. I know what chapters should be repeated and I’m very clear on which ones shouldn’t,” Fujimori said during her final message in the debate.

The document she signed committed her to respecting human rights, freedom of the press and democratic institutions that her father weakened as he consolidated power.

“Never another 5th of April!” Fujimori said, referring to the day 24 years ago when her father shuttered congress and intervened in the courts with the backing of the military.

Fujimori also vowed to give the opposition control of oversight and intelligence committees in congress and reiterated a promise to provide reparations to scores of women forcibly sterilized during her father’s 1990-2000 government.

Critics dismissed the pledge as a cynical ploy for votes.

“The same mafia, the same sweet-talk,” the collective No To Keiko said on Twitter.

Opposition to Fujimori has eased as it looks increasingly likely that she will face 35-year-old leftist lawmaker Veronika Mendoza in a polarizing run-off race.

Mendoza has risen to statistically tie for second place with 77-year-old investor-favorite Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in three recent opinion polls, as support for him remains largely flat.

Mendoza, who wore her hair in a braid at the debate and opened her speech with a greeting in the indigenous language Quechua, appeared confident as she renewed promises to ditch the business-friendly constitution that Alberto Fujimori enacted in 1993 for a new one that empowers the poor.

About 60 percent of Peruvians have made up their minds about who to vote for, according to Ipsos.

President Ollanta Humala, who narrowly beat Fujimori during her first presidential bid in 2011, will hand over power on July 28. He is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term.

(This version of the story corrects penultimate paragraph to say about 60 percent of Peruvians had decided who to vote for, instead of nearly 60 percent undecided)

Reporting By Mitra Taj