The left has won big in Peruvian municipal elections - but the vote was also a repudiation of leftist terrorists, who recently have operated with virtual impunity in some parts of the nation.
Terrorists sought to keep voters from the polls Sunday. They urged a boycott of the election and they tried to frighten the public with bombings in the days just before the vote.
But the scare tactics did not work. The turnout for this off-year election was large everywhere. And in Ayacucho, the home base of the guerrillas' Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) movement, more than 90 percent of the electorate cast ballots.
Peruvians seemed to want to send a message to the guerrillas - even though the message is unlikely to be heeded.
Voters also sent messages to President Fernando Belaunde Terry's centrist Accion Popular (AP) party. Right across the nation, Peruvians rejected AP candidates. Peruvians seem to be saying the AP is not doing enough to solve the nation's deep economic and social problems - which include a gross domestic product drop of 13 percent in the first six months of 1983. Inflation is 130 percent and unemployment is well over 30 percent nationwide.
Of four major parties running in the election, Belaunde's AP candidates came in last place almost everywhere. Peru's politics have long been left of center, but the vote shows the trend to the left has became more pronounced.
Peruvians gave the sharply leftist Izquierda Unida (United Left or IU) and the Aprista party control of most city governments. Here in Lima, IU candidate Dr. Alfonso Barrantes Lingan won the mayor's race with slightly more than a third of the vote.
Not too far behind was the Aprista candidate Alfredo Barnechea.
Together they polled 63 percent of the vote.
That was the pattern across the nation. While the IU wanted Lima and a few other cities, Aprista candidates won handily in most major cities. In fact, the Aprista movement again demonstrated that it is the nation's single most important political force.
A non-Marxist leftist party, Aprista was founded in the 1930s by the late Victor Raul Haya de la Torre. Its full name, seldom used, is the Alianza Popular Revolucionario Americana. The IU, on the other hand, is an amalgam of Marxists - communists, socialists, and others.
Lima's mayor-elect Barrantes downplays the communist component in the IU makeup, particularly relating to his election. ''I merely want to run the city efficiently,'' he says.
Both the IU and the Aprista movement appeal to ''los de abajo'' (the underdogs) as opposed to ''los de arriba'' (the upper classes) in the campaign.
Given the fact that at least 70 percent of Peru's population is poor, it is not surprising that the IU and Aprista won so handily. AP is widely seen as the party of the upper classes.
The Aprista movement's success stems not just from its history as Peru's strongest party, but also from its effort to attract young, new leaders.
Aprista's general secretary, Alan Garcia Perez, is in his 30s, and during the municipal election campaign traveled extensively throughout Peru, recruiting young members for the party.
Bombs rocked Lima, Ayacucho, and other cites over the weekend as the rebels attempted to keep people away from the polls. Three civil guards were killed, and several political offices were bombed.