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Peru election: How a president, a criminal, and a Nobel winner are deciding the race

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Both candidates have avoided retaliating, knowing that Peruvians are proud of Vargas Llosa's Nobel prize, the first ever won by a Peruvian. Attacking him could be detrimental to their electoral health.

The remarks underscore the influence that Vargas Llosa is playing over the election Sunday, when Peruvian voters go to the polls to pick a new president from among 10 candidates. He is among three names influencing the race, maybe even decisively, who are not on the ballot yet have made the race nastier and more volatile than other recent elections.

The three men – former President Alberto Fujimori, current President Alan García, and Vargas Llosa – are replicating, in some ways, their own electoral circus from 20 years ago.

Old grudges relived

In 1990, Mr. García was wrapping up his first term as president. While not running then for reelection, his APRA party produced a famous ad in the 1990 presidential runoff between Mr. Fujimori and Vargas Llosa, using Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” to warn voters against an economic disaster if Vargas Llosa won.

García’s government had already destroyed the economy – GDP shrank by 14 percent in 1989 and between 1985 and 1990 inflation was above 2 million percent – so the ad helped stoke fear of greater disaster. Fujimori, a political neophyte who emerged in the polls only weeks before the vote, won the race.

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