© Reuters. Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo addresses supporters from the headquarters of the “Peru Libre” party, in Lima, Peru, June 10, 2021. REUTERS / Alessandro Cinque
By Marcelo Rochabrun and Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) – Peru’s presidential front-runner Pedro Castillo was poised for victory Friday night, despite legal disputes over the ultra-tight vote count that had sparked tensions in the Andean nation. .
“We call on the Peruvian people to be vigilant,” Castillo told supporters amid last-minute legal disputes over the tight vote count.
According to local media, the electoral authorities had considered changing the rules to allow his right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori to challenge the validity of some 200,000 votes, but ultimately refused to make the changes in the afternoon, due to intense pressure from the side of Castle.
Castillo is ahead of Fujimori by 60,000 votes with 99.6% of the votes counted.
Castillo, an elementary school teacher who has drawn support from poorer rural Peruvians, had expressed concern about opposition plans to nullify votes in underserved areas where he had majority support and asked the electoral body for clarity on the process.
The comments underscored mounting tensions in the copper-rich nation that has been on the rails since Sunday’s vote. Castillo has 50.2% of the vote, well ahead of Fujimori, who has made unfounded accusations of fraud.
Peru’s electoral jury has not ruled during the day on media reports that said it was considering changing the rules.
Vladimir Cerrón, leader of Castillo’s Peru Libre party, was even more strident, saying on Twitter that “the people must rise up” in defense of the vote. He had previously claimed Castillo’s victory in the razor’s edge elections.
The country’s electoral authority has yet to confirm a winner, but most observers and some regional left leaders, including Argentina and Bolivia, have congratulated Castillo as the winner, prompting protests from the Peruvian government.
“Several presidents around the world are congratulating the victory of Pedro Castillo, that is, he has solid international legitimacy,” Cerrón wrote.
A DIVIDED PERU
Fujimori has yet to admit the election and his supporters have called protests against the result.
Daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, she has doubled down on unfounded accusations of fraud, and members of her party have said they will not relent until all votes and appeals are counted, which could still take days.
Castillo himself has not come to proclaim himself the winner either.
The election has bitterly divided Peruvians between social classes, with higher-income citizens supporting Fujimori, while many low-income Peruvians supported Castillo, even in key mining regions of the country, the world’s second largest producer.
Castillo was not a member of the Peru Libre party prior to his presidency. It is not yet clear whether he would adopt his far-left stance on the economy if he were in power.
In recent days he has hired Pedro Francke, a moderate left-wing economist, as an advisor.