Peru took a major step towards making Keiko Fujimori the country's next president by giving her a crushing win in the country's first round vote on Sunday.
The daughter of the disgraced strongman Alberto Fujimori picked up 39 percent of the vote, according to preliminary official results with nearly two thirds of the ballots counted.
Keiko, as she is known throughout Peru, will now face a June 5 runoff against second placed Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a veteran pro-business former prime minister and economy minister who is usually referred to as PPK.
Kuczynski got 24 percent of the vote in the early count, apparently picking up tactical support from anti-Fujimorista leftists, who view the veteran politician as the best chance to beat Keiko. That allowed PPK to beat off a tenacious late challenge from Verónika Mendoza, a young progressive congresswoman, who received 17 percent.
The other seven candidates were all a long way behind. Several, including ex-president Alejandro Toledo, failed to break the five percent barrier needed to avoid losing their party registrations.
Voting passed off peacefully, with no allegations of major irregularities, although many voters were forced to line up for hours and accused the National Office of Electoral Processes, which organized the vote, of ineptitude.
An ambush by the remnants of the maoist Shining Path rebels in a remote part of the eastern Andes killed three soldiers on the eve of the poll. The rebels have long ceased to be a threat outside of a small handful of isolated valleys, and most Peruvian media dismissed the attack as attention-seeking that did not impact the elections.
"The citizens are demanding a change," Keiko said in a brief speech given at her party headquarters in the capital Lima as her victory became clear. She added that the country wanted "reconciliacion, and not more fighting."
Earlier, talking from a balcony to a cheering crowd of supporters, Keiko also responded to the frequent complaint that basic public services — such as education, healthcare and policing — fail to reach many corners of the Andean nation's challenging national geography.
"We represent the voice of Peruvians who demand the presence of the state," she said.
Though Keiko now heads into the runoff with a huge lead, she remains potentially vulnerable thanks to her father's polarizing legacy.
President from 1990 to 2000, Alberto Fujimori is credited with ending the Shining Path's ferocious insurgency and pulling Peru out of an economic nosedive.
But he also ordered extrajudicial killings, shuttered congress and ran what many regard as the worst kleptocracy since independence from Spain in 1824. He is now serving a 25-year jail term for human rights abuses and corruption.
Many Peruvians would regard a return to power of Fujimorismo as national ignominy, and some observers believe that Keiko's first round vote may be very close to her ceiling of possible support. Some also blame the broken promises of lame duck current president Ollanta Humala, and the other elected leaders who have succeeded Alberto Fujimori since 2000, for the resurgence of Fujimorismo, and the desire of many voters for strong leadership.
Some polls have also already suggested that PPK could edge her out in the second round. Even some left wing Peruvians were breathing a sigh of relief that the 77-year-old former premier had beaten off Mendoza. The 35-year-old was projected to lose to Keiko in the June vote by as much as 10 points.
"He is much more strongly positioned with Peru's [powerful and largely conservative] media," Cynthia McClintock, a Peru expert at George Washington University, told VICE News. "Most want peace and prosperity. Keiko is so polarizing. Why would you even go there?"
In an apparent allusion to Fujimorismo's divisive image, PPK told supporters late on Sunday night: "We don't want a country in conflict. We want harmony among citizens."
Yet Kuczynski may also struggle to convince some of Mendoza's voters to trust him.
Many remain deeply offended by his attack on the Quechua-speaking young congresswoman who he described as a "half-red who has never done anything in her dog's life," ahead of Sunday's vote.
"I am more anti-PPK than anti-Keiko," said autoparts salesman and committed Mendoza supporter, Carlos Sotelo. "We all know what to watch out for with Fujimorismo but not enough people are talking about PPK and his dirty tricks."
Sotelo said that faced with a choice between Keiko and PPK in the runoff, he will be spoiling his ballot paper.
Follow Simeon Tegel on Twitter: @SimeonTegel