Victory in sight for Peru´s Castillo with 70,000 vote margin as fraud claims muddy water

Peruvian leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo of Peru Libre waves to supporters from his party headquarters’ balcony in Lima on June 8, 2021. — AFP pic
Peruvian leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo of Peru Libre waves to supporters from his party headquarters’ balcony in Lima on June 8, 2021. — AFP pic

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LIMA, June 10 — Peruvian socialist Pedro Castillo maintained a slim lead over rival Keiko Fujimori this morning with 99.998 per cent of the votes counted and as electoral authorities met to scrutinise contested votes.

Castillo, an elementary school teacher and political novice who won widespread grassroots backing for pledges to rewrite the constitution of the world’s No. 2 copper producer and redistribute wealth, had 50.2 per cent of the vote, maintaining a 0.4 percentage point lead over right-wing Keiko Fujimori, or 71,441 votes.

Some 300,000 contested votes are being scrutinized by an electoral jury, a process that will take several days to complete and could delay the announcement of who will be the next president to take over from interim leader Francisco Sagasti at the end of July.

However analysts said any outstanding votes were now unlikely to tip the balance.

“Pedro Castillo is all but certain to be the next president,” said Eileen Gavin, principal analyst of Global Markets and the Americas for United Kingdom-based risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

Last night, Fujimori, the daughter of polarising former president Alberto Fujimori, alleged that about 500,000 votes were suspicious, without providing substantial evidence. She questioned the likeliness of voting tables grouping up to 300 ballots in which she got no votes at all.

“We think it is crucial that these (allegations) be analyzed in the final count,” Fujimori said, who added that she was not saying that electoral authorities were complicit in any wrongdoing.

The ethics tribunal of the National Jury of Elections (JNE), the body charged with overseeing the legality of the electoral process, said in a statement on Twitter this morning that throwing doubt on the results without evidence, and calling for protests as both camps have done since the vote on Sunday night, was “irresponsible.”

“They feed a climate of social polarisation and weaken electoral organisms,” the statement said.

Veronika Mendoza, a centre-left candidate in the first round of the presidential election in April who has thrown her weight behind Castillo and lent several advisors to his campaign, told local radio this morning of Fujimori´s claims: “They are seeking to generate chaos and strike out at democracy.”

Castilo’s Peru Libre party has strongly denied the claims and electoral observers say the vote was carried out cleanly.

The allegations, with some echoes of the legal wrangling after the US election last year, may trigger weeks of confusion and tension, amid a polarized election cycle that has divided Peruvians, with higher-income citizens supporting the right-wing candidate and lower-income ones supporting Castillo.

Hundreds of voters on both sides have taken to the streets to protest for their candidate, mostly peacefully and even at times with musicians and dancers. Castillo has made calls on supporters to “defend the vote”.

Peru, which saw three presidents in a week last year amid political scandals and protests, has been hit by the world’s deadliest Covid-19 outbreak by deaths per capita, and posted its worst economic plunge in three decades last year. — Reuters

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