Citing vote irregularities, candidate officially quits Peru presidential race

LIMA, Peru - Presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo made good Monday on his threat to withdraw from the May 28 runoff, accusing incumbent President Alberto Fujimori of denying him an even playing field.

Toledo filed a formal letter with the National Election Board announcing his pullout until a later date is set. According to Carlos Bringas, one of the board's five members, the move means Toledo forfeits the second round, giving President Alberto Fujimori an automatic re-election victory. The full election board did not immediately announce its position.

Toledo's decision came despite polls showing him tied with Fujimori in voter preference. Last Thursday, he announced that he was boycotting the May 28 runoff, and asked his supporters not to go to the polls. But he did not put his withdrawal in writing.

The election board on Thursday rejected Toledo's demand to postpone the election until June 18 to allow time to clean up a vote-counting system that he said has been rigged to give President Alberto Fujimori a third five-year term.

Toledo demanded the delay so there would be time to eliminate what he described as the ''fraudulent conditions'' of the first round vote on April 9. The National Election Board ruled within hours against his request and said the runoff election would take place.

The upcoming presidential vote was already in doubt before the delivery of Toledo's letter. Earlier Monday, the election monitor mission from the Organization of American States said it was suspending cooperation with Peruvian election officials.

The OAS mission, led by Eduardo Stein, said it found grave flaws in new vote-counting software and accused the officials of trying to use the OAS group to endorse the irregularities.

Fujimori, seeking his third five-year term, fell some 20,000 votes short of an outright win in the first round, forcing him into a runoff against Toledo, a U.S.-educated economist who grew up in poverty. He had 49.9 percent of the valid votes against 40.2 percent for Toledo.

Despite Toledo's announcement he would not participate in the May 28 runoff, Fujimori has continued on the campaign trail, calling Toledo a rudderless, indecisive leader who constantly changes his positions.

Toledo had continued to campaign, addressing large rallies in a bid to force the government to postpone the runoff.

In the last month, Toledo, a former World Bank consultant, had repeatedly warned that he would boycott the runoff race if he was not allowed to compete.

In the first round, Toledo was routinely met on the campaign trail by pro-Fujimori demonstrators who hurled insults, eggs and rocks - conditions that had quieted down considerably.

Toledo had said modest improvements in media coverage noted by international monitors in recent weeks could not make up for months of dirty tactics designed to destroy his candidacy, including phone-taps, death threats and harassment.


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