Experience in previous presidential elections in Peru suggests that, to win, the most important thing is to reach the second round on an ascending popularity curve. Since 1990 it has been possible for candidates who only months previously were polling in single digits and who were written off as ‘no hopers’, not only reach to reach the second round but, indeed, like Alberto Fujimori in 1990, to win the presidency.

Although the rise of Alejandro Toledo and Ollanta Humala was not as dramatic as that of Fujimori, they started off as relative ‘outsiders’ with very limited political support. This tendency has encouraged candidates with low scores in the popularity league to pitch in, in the hope (however remote) that they may possibly reach the second round.

In this current presidential contest this is particularly pronounced. Keiko Fujimori polls quite consistently with around 30% of the vote. This is surely more than enough for her to comfortably reach the second round, but she remains still far from the 50% threshold required to win outright. Her main hope to ensure victory is that her opponent in the second round encounters greater hostility than she. In previous elections, the campaign for the second round has revolved around the idea of ‘the lesser of two evils’.

Currently it is very difficult to predict who will be with her in the second round due to the proliferation of ‘micro-candidates’, each with 2-3% in the polls. The mid-sized candidates such as Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) or César Acuña (tied in the last Ipsos poll on 13%) could do much better if they faced no competition from the smaller candidates. Alan García, currently on 8%, has other problems of perception, but is also facing competition from the small guys.

Amongst the ‘micro-candidates’ the one who has grown most is Julio Guzmán now polling on 5%, and who many consider a ‘more Peruvian’ and younger version of PPK. Alejandro Toledo holds on at 3% and, although he has practically no chance to gain momentum in this election, those three points would make a world of difference to either PPK or Acuña, both vying for second place.

Four candidates are on or around 2%: Veronika Mendoza (the only openly leftist candidate); the law and order candidate for the ruling PNP party, Daniel Urresti; Nano Guerra García, who is fronting the ticket for Solidaridad Nacional, the party of Lima mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio; and Renzo Reggiardo, who is vying for the vote of the young. Other candidates poll at 1% or less adding up to 3%. Null and void votes account for 6%, and a full 8% of the electorate has yet to make its mind.

Campaigning will be intense over the coming weeks, and there could be considerable movement both among the candidates holding a spot in the middle as well as among the ‘micro-candidates’ who still aim to be the new ‘outsider’. The final result is thus far from obvious.