OAS chief suggests Peru's elections not fully democratic

Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro gives a speech during a plenary session of Mexico's Senate in Mexico City, September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

LIMA (Reuters) - The head of the Organization of American States criticized Peru's elections on Friday, suggesting they would not be fully democratic if steps were not taken to ensure all candidates can participate. The comments follow the electoral board's barring of two leading presidential hopefuls last month in an unprecedented move that many consider unfair. "We call for measures to reestablish the right to political participation for everyone and avoid semi-democratic elections," OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said on Twitter. Almagro did not make any specific recommendations and declined requests for an interview. It was unclear what could be done ahead of elections in just 10 days. The prime minister has ruled out postponing the vote. Almagro posted a picture of himself talking with Julio Guzman, an outsider who was tossed out of the race because his party did not comply with minor electoral procedures. Another candidate, wealthy former Governor Cesar Acuna, was barred for handing out cash while campaigning in violation of a new ban on vote-buying. The controversy has shaken this year's race, threatening to tarnish the legitimacy of the next president and stoking opposition to front-runner Keiko Fujimori. Many Peruvians think centre-right Fujimori has been unfairly favoured by the electoral board, which issued a final ruling on Friday that cleared her of allegations she also broke the ban on vote-buying. The electoral board has repeatedly denied any political bias and no evidence of wrongdoing has surfaced. "In Peru, equality for everyone before the law is indispensable," Almagro said after meeting with Guzman in his office in Washington. He said the electoral board was applying a system for disqualifying candidates that "does not offer needed guarantees." The five-member electoral board responded to Almagro on Twitter, saying that elections were democratic. "Equality before the law is a constitutional guarantee that Peru respects," it said. The head of OAS's mission to Peru, Sergio Abreu, did not express any concern about the legitimacy of this year's vote during an official visit last month and said the electoral board had "clear jurisdiction" to bar Guzman and Acuna. Fifty-seven percent of Peruvians polled in a March 28 Ipsos survey said they thought the electoral board was acting on behalf of political interests. Only one leading presidential candidate has questioned the fairness of the disqualifications - leftist lawmaker Veronika Mendoza, who surged in an opinion poll to tie Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at second place. (Reporting by Mitra Taj)