Large Turnout for Local Elections Despite Rebel Death Threats
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Thousands of Peruvians defied rebel threats and voted Sunday in mayoral elections. Maoist guerrillas trying to disrupt the balloting killed a candidate and blew up a church, a school and power lines.
Four people were killed Sunday night, including a mother and her baby, when one of the victims stepped on a mine on a road a few miles north of the Andean city of Huancayo, police reported. They said two people in nearby Concepcion were electrocuted Sunday by power lines after guerrillas of the Maoist Shining Path movement blew up a utility pole.
Authorities extended voting in Lima for two hours to accommodate lines of people waiting to cast ballots, but voting was slower in the Andean highlands, where a rebel-decreed strike paralyzed public transportation.
An exit poll commissioned by television Channel 5 showed Ricardo Belmont, an independent, the clear winner in Lima’s mayoral race with 49.6 percent of the vote.
Juan Inchaustegui, runner-up in the field of nine candidates with 26 percent, conceded defeat and congratulated Belmont. Inchaustegui was the candidate of a center-right coalition backing novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in next April’s presidential election.
The main parties with candidates in most of the municipal races are the United Left, a Marxist-led alliance, and the Democratic Front.
Vargas Llosa, who is favored to win the presidential race, called Sunday’s vote ″very important to the future of our country ... to demonstrate that Peruvians do not fear the extremist minorities that want to destroy our democracy.″
Although voting was heavy in Lima and other large coastal cities, the terror campaign by the Shining Path rebels frightened some voters.
Officials said that in Ayacucho, 235 miles southeast of Lima and considered a Shining Path stronghold, 68.7 percent of the votes cast were blank or null. Voting is required by law.
With Peru suffering 3,000 percent annual inflation and economic chaos, the governing center-left Aprista Party was given little chance of winning many mayoral races.
Death threats by the rebels, who have killed scores of officials and candidates this year, frightened anyone from running for office in more than 80 municipalities.
″We must put aside the threats and go forward,″ said Francisco Vega, 56, one of about 5,000 voters who waited quietly outside a school in Lurigancho, a shantytown set amid sand dunes on the outskirts of Lima.
″I am voting because I believe in democracy, not because someone is forcing me to,″ said the 56-year-old Vega, who like many in Lurigancho migrated from the Andes highlands in search of a better life.
Soldiers armed with assault rifles patrolled the streets. Armed police and soldiers also provided heavy security at voting places.
Authorities said Shining Path guerrillas shot and killed the Aprista mayoral candidate early Sunday in Azangaro, near the Bolivian border 470 miles southeast of Lima.
In Huancayo, capital of Junin department 140 miles east of Lima, the rebels dynamited a church and a school early Sunday.
The attacks followed more than 20 explosions around the city Saturday night intended to disrupt the voting as the first stage in their campaign to block the presidential election next April.
Rebels this year alone have killed more than 130 mayors, local judges, clerks, council members and municipal candidates, and hundreds more have resigned in fear for their lives.
Some 10 million Peruvians were registered to vote. Peru has 1,947 municipalities, but election authorities said there were no candidates in at least 86 towns due to rebel death threats.
Voting is required. In the past voters have had to dip their middle fingers in purple ink that does not wear off easily. In the days before the last presidential election in 1985, Shining Path rebels cut off the fingers of children in several highland villages in a warning to adults against voting.
Rumors circulated around Lima’s shantytowns that anyone who voted Sunday would suffer the same fate. The national election board left the decision of whether to use the ink up to local boards.
In Lima, election officials used the ink, which is intended to prevent repeat balloting.