By Marcelo Rochabrun and Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) – Peruvian socialist Pedro Castillo held a slim lead in a polarized presidential election on Wednesday, with a battle over the outcome that could trigger weeks of political wrangling, market volatility and deeper divisions.
Castillo, the son of illiterate farmers who has shaken the political elite of the Andean nation and obtained great support from the rural poor population, obtained 50.2% with 99.8% of the votes processed, only 0.4 percentage points ahead of right-wing Keiko Fujimori.
Fujimori, the heir to a powerful in-laws, however, has raised unsubstantiated allegations that Castillo supporters attempted to steal votes and her team has outlined plans to present a legal challenge to the outcome.
The left-wing party has flatly denied the claims, and election observers say the vote was conducted cleanly.
The allegations, with some echoes of legal disputes after last year’s U.S. elections, could trigger weeks of confusion and tension, amid a polarized election cycle that has divided Peruvians, with higher-income citizens supporting the candidate of right and lower income. those who support Castillo.
“People are tired, if they continue trampling on our rights that our president has already won, we are going to get into a social struggle,” said Justiniano Ilario, a teacher who supported Castillo in a protest march.
“Enough is enough, people from the provinces, we are tired of this outrage of corruption that exists everywhere.”
Luis Cano, who wore a “Keiko” cap at a rival street protest, said Castillo’s supporters were using tactics other authoritarian leftists in the region had done before to win the vote.
“They are using Chavista tactics,” he said, referring to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. “Everything is programmed in advance to contest the ballots and even abroad, contesting only the places where Keiko was going to win.”
Hundreds of voters on both sides have taken to the streets to protest their candidate, mostly peacefully and sometimes even with musicians and dancers. Castillo has called on supporters to “defend the vote.”
There are also some 300,000 contested votes, which will need to be further scrutinized by an electoral jury, a process that will take several days to complete and could tip the balance.
The world’s second-largest producer saw three presidents in a week last year amid political scandals and protests, was hit by the world’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak and posted its worst economic decline in three decades last year.
(GRAPHIC: Castillo v Fujimori: https://graphics.reuters.com/PERU-ELECTION/yxmvjabwzpr/chart.png)
THE ‘NARROWEST ELECTIONS’
Fujimori had closed the gap slightly overnight, as nearly all of the foreign votes favoring the conservative candidate arrived, although not enough to slow down Castillo’s leadership as she hoped, leaving the disputed votes as her last breath. potential.
“Right now Fujimori is unlikely to surpass Castillo,” said David Sulmont, a sociology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and former head of its voting unit.
“It is one of the tightest elections in the country,” he added. “The margin may continue to vary, but I think Castillo will be the winner.”
On Wednesday, a key economic adviser to Castillo told Reuters that the leftist would maintain a “market economy” if he was appointed president and that there would be no massive state interventions in the economy.
However, the aide added that mining taxes would be raised to pay for planned health and education reforms, although he acknowledged that the sector must remain competitive.
The Peruvian sol gained about 2% on Wednesday, although shares fell more than 3% and shares in the mining sector were hit the hardest.
‘COMPANION IN FIGHT’
A victory for Castillo, a teacher who was the surprise winner in the first round of voting in April, would mark a breakthrough for the Latin American left amid growing discontent over poverty and inequality that has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. -19.
On Tuesday night, Castillo came close to claiming victory. “We already have the official count of the party, where the people have won this fight,” he told his supporters, referring to an unofficial vote count carried out by his party, Peru Libre.
Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, an iconic leftist whose socialist party is now in power in that country, also congratulated Castillo on his “victory” in a post on Twitter, calling him a “soul brother and fellow soldier.”
Fujimori is in her third attempt to become president, having been runner-up in the last two cycles. In 2016, it lost by a margin of 0.24 percentage points.
Castillo has spooked markets with proposals to redistribute mining wealth, reformulate the constitution and increase taxes on mining companies, a key source of income for the Andean country, although he has sought to moderate his tone in recent days.
(GRAPHIC: Castillo v Fujimori: https://graphics.reuters.com/PERU-ELECTION/xegvbrjggvq/index.html)