By Marco Aquino and Stefanie Eschenbacher
LIMA (Reuters) – Peruvian socialist candidate Pedro Castillo claimed victory in the presidential election on Tuesday after clinging to a narrow lead when the long vote count ended, though his right-wing rival vowed to fight the result and still It has not yield.
Castillo finished counting 44,058 votes ahead of Keiko Fujimori, who has made allegations of fraud with little evidence and has tried to have some votes overturned. The result of the June 6 vote has not been formally announced by electoral authorities, but Castillo praised the victory on Twitter.
“A new time has begun,” Castillo wrote, along with a photo of himself with his arms raised, the word ‘President’ in large print and his campaign slogan: “No more poor in a rich country.”
He also updated his Twitter profile to include the “President-elect of the Republic of Peru (2021-2026).”
The abrupt rise of the 51-year-old former teacher has shaken Peru’s political and business elite and could have a major impact on the world’s second-largest producer’s vital mining industry, with Castillo planning steep tax increases in the sector.
Fujimori, addressing supporters at a rally in central Lima on Tuesday, vowed to continue fighting and “defend Peru’s democracy.” He hoped the outcome would turn in his favor once the ballots his party seeks to annul were verified.
“Today a result has come out, yes, a result of the ONPE (electoral body) count, but the most important thing is the evaluation of the ballot boxes,” he said. “We trust the authorities, yes, but we trust more in the popular will.”
Castillo’s Peru Libre party has rejected accusations of fraud and international observers in Lima have declared that the elections were transparent.
WILL OF THE PEOPLE
Castillo had promised earlier in the day that he would not allow his rivals to deny the will of the people and annul the elections, which have seen supporters from both sides take to the streets in recent days.
Son of peasants, Castillo obtained 50.125% of the votes, while Fujimori, the eldest daughter of former prisoner Alberto Fujimori, obtained 49.875%.
Castillo told reporters at his party’s Lima headquarters that he would respect the electoral authorities and urged them to end the uncertainty by quickly confirming the result.
“We are not going to allow an oppressed people to continue being discriminated against for more years,” Castillo said. “Things have been put on the table democratically and there needs to be a democratic solution.”
Election observers said it could take days or even weeks for authorities to deliberate on legal challenges and declare the winner.
Peruvians who had voted for Castillo have grown impatient.
Ricarte Vásquez, 32, a native of northern Cajamarca, called the stalemate “shameful” when he was selling a breakfast snack of fried sweet potato and yucca at a busy Lima junction where minibuses pick up passengers.
“If Keiko had won, it would be decided by now,” Vasquez said. “I voted not only for a change of government, but also for a change in the country.”
Vasquez said he hoped the situation for informal workers like him, many of whom suffered a severe blow during a months-long shutdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, would change with Castillo as president.
Luz María Quispe, 37, originally from Cusco, said she had also voted for Castillo and did not believe the fraud allegations.
“We want this change for Peru,” she said, standing in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary in a park in Lima, where she and the old man she cared for had stopped to pray.
“What I ask Mrs. Keiko Fujimori is that she now accepts defeat: the people have decided it.”
Quispe said she had studied to become a nurse, but was forced to quit because she could no longer pay the tuition.
The socialist Castillo has galvanized rural and poorer voters who feel lagging behind in the country’s economic growth. His rise could herald a shift to the left in Brazil, Chile and Colombia, which will vote for new leaders this year and next.