With about 96 percent of votes counted, left-wing candidate Pedro Castillo has extended his lead over Keiko Fujimori in Peru’s presidential election. Fujimori, who held the lead until Monday morning when returns from rural precincts turned the tide, is claiming that vote-counting in some regions of the country was “irregular and fraudulent.”
At 11 p.m. Monday, Castillo’s advantage was 0.4 percent, or about 130,000 votes, and observers expect the lead to grow as most of the votes remaining to be counted are in the Andean valleys where Castillo is popular.
At a late press conference Monday night, Fujimori, 46, claimed there had been a “series of irregularities which worry us and we think it’s important to highlight”.
She accused Castillo’s party Perú Libre of using a strategy to “distort and delay the results which reflect the popular will” by challenging ballot tallies which, she alleged, had favored her party Fuerza Popular. She did not provide an explanation of the charge.
For Fujimori, there’s more at stake than the presidency. If she loses, she could go to trial with the risk of ending up in jail. She is under the scrutiny of the Peruvian prosecutor’s office for the case of the illegal contributions of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, a scandal that also affected four other former presidents. She has already spent 16 months in preventive detention for this cause. She is also being investigated for illegal campaign funding activities in her two previous presidential campaigns.
Fujimori’s last hope for pulling off a victory lies with an estimated one million overseas votes that will be counted over the coming week but experts say those votes will probably break evenly between the candidates.
The election has split the country between the poor, rural Andes and the wealthier and more urban northern coast, the capital Lima and Arequipa, the country’s second largest city in the south. It comes amid one of the worst economic slowdowns in the region, which has pushed nearly 10 percent of Peru’s population into extreme poverty, millions into unemployment and prompted many others to leave major cities and return to their rural villages.
Peruvians have endured years of political turbulence, with four presidents in the past three years. Seven of the country’s last 10 leaders have either been convicted of or investigated for corruption, including Fujimori’s father.
Fujimori, 46, is the leader of the right-win Popular Force party and a household name in Peru. As well as a former member of Congress, she was the runner-up in the 2011 and 2016 presidential election run-offs. She is also the daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses. She has said that if she is elected, she will pardon her father.
On Sunday night, when she held a lead of as much as four percent, there were scenes of celebrations outside her party’s headquarters in Lima. However electoral officials said the early results reflected votes from urban areas, where she is most popular. “What we have to look for is the unity of all Peruvians. That is why I ask both groups for calm, patience, peace, to those who voted and didn’t vote for us,” Fujimori said.
Pedro Castillo, 51, is a relatively new face on the political stage, and was the unexpected winner in the first round vote in April. An elementary school teacher, he is easily recognizable by his cowboy hat and oversized pencil that he campaigns with — the symbol of his leftist Free Peru party.
The son of small-scale farmers, Castillo has gained the trust and support of many in the farming community as well as the trade union movement.
Sources: BBC and the Guardian