LIMA The frontrunner to win Peru's presidential election next month, Keiko Fujimori, has been given the go-ahead to stay in the race after vote-buying accusations were rejected by a court, a decision that will likely infuriate opponents and do little to calm a hotly disputed contest.
An electoral court found on Thursday that the centre-right candidate had not broken a new law against the distribution of cash and gifts by candidates who are campaigning.
The election in the metals exporter is due to take place on April 10, with a run-off in June if there is no outright winner, but has been thrown into disarray amid a barrage of citizen petitions to bar candidates over the breaking of electoral rules.
The allegation against Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori, related to an event she presided over where cash prizes were distributed to the winners of a breakdancing competition.
However, the electoral court in Lima said that Fujimori, who has described the accusations as "absurd", did not break any rules. It noted that the money distributed was not hers and the event was not a campaign rally.
The decision is likely to be appealed and could stoke opposition to her amid calls for equal treatment after two of her rivals were tossed out of the race earlier this month by the national electoral board.
The five-member board will hear any appeal against Thursday's decision on Fujimori and will have the final say.
Many have questioned the fairness of this year's elections after the board disqualified technocrat Julio Guzman because his party did not comply with electoral procedures when selecting him as a candidate.
Guzman was rising fast in the polls and angry Fujimori opponents say the decision was politically motivated and have convened large street protests.
The board has denied any wrongdoing or political bias.
Fujimori's closest rival, investor-favourite Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is also facing allegations that he infringed rules by supplying beer for a town festival.
The charges were contained in a citizen's petition filed to the board, but the board has not begun a formal investigation into Kuczynski to date.
Latest polls suggest around 34 percent of voters support Fujimori, enough for her to win the first round but not enough to prevent a run-off. A second round against Kuczynski would be virtually tied, according to polls.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Mitra Taj, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien Editing by W Simon)