LIMA Former Wall Street executive Pedro Pablo Kuczynski held a razor-thin lead over Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of an imprisoned former authoritarian leader in a vote that may be Peru's closest presidential election in half a century.
With 91 percent of all votes counted on Monday, Kuczynski had 50.32 percent support while Fujimori trailed with 49.68 percent. The gap had narrowed from a previous tally.
Ballots of Peruvians living abroad will only begin to arrive on Monday night and the count may not be finished until Thursday or Friday, Mariano Cucho, the head of the electoral office ONPE, said.
Making up 3.86 percent of the electorate, foreign-based voters mostly live in the United States where Kuczynski stumped for votes.
But Fujimori, 41, received strong support from abroad in her first bid for the presidency in 2011, which she narrowly lost to outgoing President Ollanta Humala.
The campaign pitted the Fujimori family's brand of right-wing populism against Kuczynski's elite background and stiff technocratic style.
Fujimori had long been the favourite to win the election, but Kuczynski caught up with her in the final days of the campaign as Peruvians weighed the legacy of her father former president Alberto Fujimori and scandals involving her close advisers.
Many Peruvians credit Alberto Fujimori with defeating the Shining Path far-left guerrilla group and building schools and hospitals in rural areas when he was president in 1990-2000. But his authoritarian style divided the country and he is now serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses.
This year's election appeared to be the tightest in Peru since a near-tie in 1962 that ended in a military coup.
Fujimori has responded to the top voter concern, crime, with a hardline stance that includes support for the death penalty and promises to lock up the most dangerous criminals in five new prisons she would have built high in the Andes mountains.
Renate Weber, head of the European Union's observation mission, said voting had been "calm and orderly" with no signs of fraud on the part of the electoral office.
Ballots from some far-flung provinces also had yet to be counted, including in the southern Andes where Kuczynski swept up support and in sparsely-populated jungle regions where Fujimori is popular. Arrivals of ballots from a remote region known as the VRAEM, where remnant Shining Path guerrillas make security a concern, had also not arrived.
About 1.5 percent of ballots are in dispute and will be reviewed and settled by an electoral board, ONPE said.
'NOT WORRIED AT ALL'
Peruvian financial markets did not react strongly to the partial results, as both candidates' platforms were considered favourable to investors.
Kuczynski, a 77-year-old former prime minister, investor and World Bank economist, portrayed himself as an honest and experienced leader who would clean up corruption, ensure every town in Peru has piped water and revive economic growth that has slowed on weaker prices for Peru's mineral exports.
Kuczynski's press representative told Reuters the candidate would only speak to journalists when 100 percent of votes had been counted or the electoral office ONPE called the election.
His aides and key supporters arrived at his home in a residential neighbourhood in Lima, where journalists gathered outside.
"We're not worried at all," Kuczynski's running mate Martin Vizcarra said about the narrow lead between the candidates. "It's been a very intense campaign and polls showed that the results were going to be fought until the end."
Despite endorsing Fujimori during her first presidential bid in 2011, Kuczynski earned the support of her critics from across the political spectrum and stepped up attacks against her in the final days of campaigning.
"We want a democratic country, a country committed to dialogue!" a jubilant Kuczynski said as he waved to supporters from a balcony at his campaign headquarters on Sunday evening before the partial count was announced.
In an emotional speech on Sunday, Fujimori was also upbeat, saying the polls showed a technical tie and votes that were expected to come in slowly from Peru's most remote regions would favour her.
"This is a tight vote without a doubt ... what we're seeing is the vitality of democracy in our country, and that fills me with pride," Fujimori said as she gave the crowd the thumbs-up.
Fujimori did not made any public statements on Monday.
If he wins, Kuczynski will have to reckon with a solid majority of Fujimori's party in Congress and a leftist party that has promised not to align with either of them.
(Additional reporting by Marco Aquino, Caroline Stauffer and Ursula Scollo; Editing by Kieran Murray and Alistair Bell)
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