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Peruvian leader's high personal popularity pulls in votes for party

Nationwide municipal elections in Peru last week appear to have proved one thing. Peruvians are still massively drawn to the personal appeal of President Alan Garc'ia P'erez. According to unofficial returns, candidates running under the banner of Mr. Garc'ia's American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) virtually swept Peru's electoral map, even winning political space in longtime strongholds of the Marxist opposition United Left Party in the interior of the country.

Although the official vote tally will only be completed later this week, unofficial returns indicate Garc'ia's party got an estimated 53 percent of the national vote, compared with the 49 percent he polled in national elections that brought him to power 15 months ago.

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``People voted for Alan,'' said Federico Velarde, a political analyst for Lima's Desco Institute. ``The vote solidly ratifies Garc'ia's electoral triumph in national elections a year ago.''

The win, if confirmed, means that the APRA party now virtually dominates politics at every level in Peru. The party already has majorities in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. If vote projections hold, APRA will pull the strings in a majority of the country's municipalities. Of a total of 24 provincial capitals, the APRA party won 18, according to unofficial returns.

``It's incredible,'' said one Latin American diplomat in Lima. ``Never in the history of Peru has one political party had so much power.''

But in metropolitan Lima - the most important municipality of all, with 6.4 million inhabitants or about one-third of Peru's population - the story was different. Government party candidate Jorge del Castillo polled about 34 percent of the vote; Alfonso Barrantes Lingan, the popular incumbent mayor and leader of the United Left Party, an estimated 32.4 percent; and Luis Bedoya Reyes, of the Partido Popular Cristiano, the right-leaning party favored by business and the upper middle class, 27.6 percent.

Political analysts say the three-way split indicates that Garc'ia has lost ground in the capital, despite his significant popularity throughout the country.

And the results of the vote in Lima are being seriously contested, with opposition parties claiming there were enough violations to justify the calling of another election in the city.

Garc'ia soundly rejected the charges, saying: ``The elections have been categorically clean. The people know it.''

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The United Left coalition has formally petitioned the national election board, presenting what it says is evidence that vote boxes were tampered with. There were also formal complaints that the government unfairly used television advertising as voters were going to the polls and that government-controlled newspapers and TV stations declared APRA a winner before polling stations had closed.

Mr. Barrantes and Mr. Bedoya, who are both the leaders of their parties and have open aspirations to become President in national elections slated for 1990, warned voters during the campaign that an APRA win could lead to a dangerous monopoly of power.

Although APRA has been a strong political force in the country for the past 60 years, it had never been in power until Garc'ia won the elections last year.

The President has won wide popular support through strong nationalist rhetoric and by promising social justice for millions of poverty-stricken Peruvians. He has spearheaded government programs to improve conditions in areas of the country long shut out by traditional political and economic systems.

Some observers suggest that the majority APRA could now attempt to change the Constitution to allow Garc'ia to run again for President in 1990. At present, the Constitution prohibits two consecutive terms. Prime Minister Luis Alva Castro made that possibility more of a reality Saturday, when he openly called in a press conference for a change in the Constitution.

It is widely believed that the party could not win another election if Garc'ia were not at the helm.

Political observers agree Garc'ia has made significant headway in taming inflation and spurring modest economic recovery, especially in the manufacturing sector. The biggest challenge facing the government is clearly the terrorism of the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

Much of the interior of the country is under emergency military control, and bombings and selective assassinations of police and military officials are almost a daily occurrence in the capital.

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