Fujimori support firms as leftist rises in Peru presidential race

LIMA (Reuters) - Support for Keiko Fujimori, the front-runner in Peru’s presidential election next week, firmed as leftist lawmaker Veronika Mendoza made a late surge in a vote likely to head to a second round, an Ipsos survey showed.

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Fujimori, the 40-year-old center-right daughter of imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has long enjoyed a double-digit lead over her nine rivals.

But she has struggled to distance herself from the dark legacy of her father, who is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses and corruption in his 1990-2000 government and is not expected to win outright on April 10.

Support for her in a mock voting exercise rose 2.1 percentage points to 40.8 percent of valid votes, according to the poll published on Sunday in the daily El Comercio. The Ipsos survey of some 1,800 people from March 30 to April 1 had a margin of error of 2.3 points.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the 77-year-old investor favorite, had 19.9 percent, while Mendoza, who wants a new constitution to weaken the business elite, was at 18.4 percent, up 3.8 points thanks to growing support from rural and poor voters.

The sudden rise of the 35-year-old Mendoza - statistically tied with Kuczynski in three recent opinion polls - appears to have helped blunt a recent spike in opposition to Fujimori.

The share of voters who said they would “definitely not” vote for Fujimori fell to 45 percent from 49 percent in the Ipsos poll. Forty percent opposed Mendoza, down from 41 percent before.

Hostility from Peruvians who loathe Fujimori’s father and blame her for the disqualification of two of her rivals mean she is vulnerable in a second-round vote if she fails to get at least 50 percent of all valid ballots in the first round.

While Mendoza has shaken up a race that had been seen as a shoo-in for a fifth straight conservative government, she also faces stiff opposition from some Peruvians wary of upsetting the country’s robust economy with unorthodox policies.

In a second-round scenario, Mendoza would lose to Fujimori by six percentage points, whereas Kuczynski would beat Fujimori by two percentage points, according to Ipsos.

Peru has never had a woman president or seen two female candidates compete in a run-off.

About 58 percent of Peruvians polled told Ipsos they had made their minds on who they would vote for.

Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Alan Crosby