LIMA: Peruvians will go to the polls on Sunday for a back-to-the-future election that could see an unpopular former President swept into office.
Alan Garcia, who led the country during a turbulent five years in the 1980s, is ahead in the polls with surveys predicting a winning margin of between 4 and 20 percentage points.
But for many in the Andean nation the key to his remarkable rehabilitation is not the greater unpopularity of his opponent former army officer Ollanta Humala. Instead, it is the shadow of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who has provoked outrage among many for interfering in the run-up to the poll.
This week he labelled the country's President, Alejandro Toledo, a ``cry baby''.
The charge came after Mr. Toledo had called on the Organisation of American States to curb Mr. Chavez's meddling in the election. Both countries have already recalled their respective ambassadors in a diplomatic spat. Mr Chavez has also described Mr Garcia as a thief, while extolling the virtues of his opponent.
That support, however, has only appeared to benefit Mr Garcia. He has gained 20 points in the past month.
Mr Garcia, a charismatic leader dubbed ``Latin America's Kennedy'', was elected President in 1985 at the age of 35. Within two years his presidency was mired in hyperinflation, a failing economy and a potent guerrilla movement.
In 1992, two years after leaving office, he went into exile for nine years in France and Colombia, before returning to stand again for President, narrowly losing to Mr Toledo. Mr Garcia has a dreadful reputation in Peru, the legacy of his mismanagement of the country earning him a 61 per cent disapproval rating with today's voters. But, as he himself noted in a recent interview, he is the ``least worst'' choice of the two candidates.
Mr Humala, meanwhile, represents a leap into the unknown. Like Presidents Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia, he has strong support among the country's rural poor.
Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006