Peru’s polarised presidential runoff still too close to call

Left-wing Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo has taken a razor-thin but widening lead ahead of right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori on Monday, but the results of the highly polarised poll remain too close to call.

With over 95 percent of the vote counted, Castillo edged in front of Fujimori with 50.2 percent support over her 49.8 percent.

Sunday’s run-off came amid years of political instability in Peru, which is also struggling to cope with surging COVID-19 infection and death rates and a related economic downturn. The country last week reported the highest coronavirus death rate per capita in the world.

“We’re not going to know (the winner) until the last vote” is counted, political scientist Jessica Smith told the AFP news agency. “It’s still very unsure – the difference is too tight and we have to wait for the official result.”

As uncertainty over who would be the country’s next president mounted on Monday, the Lima stock market plunged and the sol dropped to a record low of 3.92 against the US dollar.

The close result could lead to days of uncertainty and tension, as the vote also underscores a sharp divide between the capital, Lima, and the nation’s rural hinterland that has propelled Castillo’s unexpected rise.

Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori leaves a polling station after casting her vote in Lima on June 6 [Sebastian Castaneda/Reuters]

“All we want right now is democracy, that everything be democratic. That whoever wins, the other accepts it and doesn’t start any trouble,” Lili Rocha, a voter in Lima, told the Reuters news agency after some scuffles had broken out overnight.

Reporting from Lima on Monday, Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez said while the vote remained too close to call, Castillo appeared to be extending his lead over Fujimori.

“It will be won by very few votes,” Sanchez said about the contest, explaining that ballots cast from abroad may be key. “At the beginning, it was said that two-thirds of those votes were going to help Fujimori, however, so far, the trend abroad is that one-third of those votes are favouring Keiko Fujimori and two-thirds Castillo,” she said.

Rural votes also will be very important, Sanchez added, and “will certainly help” Castillo because he campaigned widely in those parts of the country.

Meanwhile, supporters of Castillo, a teachers’ union leader, have been rallying outside his headquarters in Lima throughout the day on Monday. “The people here are in a celebratory mood, as you can imagine, because the numbers continue to give him the lead,” Sanchez said.

Monday was the first time since the partial official results began to be released late on Sunday that Castillo had moved in front, although the difference was razor-thin.

Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo gestures to supporters the day after the runoff election, in Lima on June 7 [Gerardo Marin/Reuters]

When Fujimori, the daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, was leading, the head of Peru’s top electoral body warned that many polling stations from rural areas – Castillo’s stronghold – had yet to be tallied.

Both candidates have promised to respect the results.

Fujimori, who is facing corruption allegations that she has denied, has pledged to maintain economic stability in Peru with “a mother’s firm hand”. Should she win, it is widely expected that she will pardon her father, who is now serving a prison term for rights abuses.

A champion for the poor, Castillo has promised to redraft the constitution to strengthen the role of the state and take a larger portion of profits from mining firms.

Many Peruvians had expressed frustration with the country’s political turmoil in the lead-up to the first round of voting in April.

Street vendor Natalia Flores told Reuters that she had not voted for either candidate on Sunday, but was hopeful that whoever won would do a good job.

“Whoever comes out ahead, I think they’ll have to do a good job because in Peru the issue of the pandemic is terrible for us economically. Work is unstable,” she said. “Whether it’s Mr Castillo, or Ms Keiko (Fujimori), I hope they do a good job over the next five years.”

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