Phone-tapped conversation threatens campaign meltdown for veteran candidate

…Lourdes Flores plans to submit criminal complaints following phone tapping…

Flores takes stunningly dirty hit in race for Lima mayor

Lourdes Flores said she will file criminal complaints with authorities to investigate who is responsible for illegally tapping her phone. Her unguarded comments, leaked to a late-night television talk show host, now seriously jeopardize her chances for victory in the  race for Lima mayor.

Flores said she aims to find out who is responsible and who could benefit from the “outrageous violation of privacy,” daily El Comercio reported.

“My role is to explain the plans for an eventual municipal government,” said Flores. “But these are unconstitutional, arbitrary, desperate and vengeful actions that are trying to distract us in the final stage [of the campaign].”

A conversation between Flores and former Congressman Xavier Barron, both from the conservative PPC party, was broadcast by TV host and award-winning novelist Jaime Bayly during his program El Francotirador, or The Sharpshooter, this week.

Flores and Barron were discussing a recent poll by Lima-based Ipsos & Apoyo which showed leftist candidate Susana Villarán on pace to overtake her as front runner ahead of the Oct. 3 ballot. The poll showed Villarán with 33 percent support, compared to 31 percent of voter preference for Flores.

The poll, which surveyed 490 people from Sept. 9-11, had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, which means the two candidates are now in a statistical dead heat for first place.

Up until then, Flores had consistently led polls for the mayor of Lima, one of the most important political positions in Peru. In fact, just a month ago, Flores held a double digit lead over Villarán, whose campaign started to surge after Peru’s National Election Board (JNE) disqualified Alex Kouri from the race because he did not comply with residency requirements.

With Flores losing her comfortable lead less than three weeks ahead of the election, the conservative candidate lashed out during the phone conversation, saying “the election doesn’t mean a damn.”

“I have never cared less about an election than this one,” said Flores, a two-time presidential candidate. “What does the mayor’s office mean to me? It is the least important thing in my life.”

Following the broadcast of the recording, Flores alleged that Peru’s jailed ex-spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, and Alex Kouri, the former mayor of the port city of Callao who was running in second place behind Flores before being disqualified by the JNE, were behind the phone tapping.

“They are looking to knock me down. It is the revenge of Montesinismo which we defeated in the electoral campaign and that is represented by Alex Kouri,” Flores said. “Now they want me to leave, but I won’t give them the pleasure.”

Kouri responded by saying that Flores should press charges against him if she has evidence he was behind the tapping.

“We invite and encourage her, if she has evidence, to proceed to the Public Ministry and press charges,” Kouri said. “I am not part of any mafia and I don’t have any interest in taking Lourdes Flores out of the electoral campaign.”

The technical secretary for the civil society organization Transparencia, Percy Medina, said the phone tapping is “very negative for the electoral process,” state news agency Andina reported.

“In reality, it is very grave that there is telephone interception of the candidates,” he added.

Nevertheless, the release of the conversation could not have come at a worse time for Flores, who will take part in a debate with Villarán and other candidates on Thursday, according to Fernando Tuesta, the director at the Catholic University’s (PUCP) Institute for Public Opinion. Tuesta said the conversation “will definitely affect her campaign.”

“What the candidates try to do is generate more support for their campaign and when [declarations like Flores’] come out it is difficult to regain the confidence [of the electorate],” he said.

“As well, she feels there is a plot against her. She feels that the previous two elections that she participated in [for Peru’s presidency] they beat her on the negotiating table. She believes that the polls can be manipulated,” he added.

Going into the final weeks of the campaign, Flores will need to better control herself if she is to win the election, Tuesta said.

“A lot of things are on the table. There is not only the mayor of Lima, but also her personal and political plans. Until now she has lost [political campaigns], but this could be her worst defeat yet.”

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