Pedro Castillo ahead in Peru election, but fraud claim by rival will delay official victory

The leftist teacher and his opponent Keiko Fujimori are preparing for a legal battle that could stretch over two weeks, and threatens to further ramp up tensions in an already-fractured country

Pedro Castillo celebrating with followers on Thursday in Lima
Pedro Castillo celebrating with followers on Thursday in LimaGIAN MASKO (AFP)

The most turbulent political campaign in the recent history of Peru is going to have a fitting finish. Schoolteacher Pedro Castillo won the elections on Thursday by a margin of just 63,000 votes, according to the near-final count. But his rival, Keiko Fujimori, has called for thousands of ballots to be nullified, something that could change the outcome. The pair are preparing for a legal battle that could last for two weeks and increase tensions even further in a country that has been fractured by the polarization generated by an election with two populist leaders as candidates.

The Peruvian electoral system counts its votes transparently, and the process can be examined online. In fact, international observers congratulated the country for its organization on the day of voting.

The vote count was too close to call, and the winner was due to be declared with just a half-point of difference. The two candidates stated that they would respect the result when the time came, and even signed public democratic commitments given the doubts that were being voiced – but each one for different reasons. Castillo because he is running with a declared Marxist-Leninist party, and Fujimori because she has occasionally defended the authoritarian government of her father, Alberto Fujimori.

When the breaking point arrived, giving the victory to Castillo, Keiko Fujimori called for the votes from 800 polling stations to be annulled, in an unprecedented development for the country.

Fujimori counts on the support of many of the most prestigious law firms in Lima, where the conservative candidate has received the overwhelming support of the local elites. The evidence for this alleged voting fraud, however, is far from fitting for these firms’ reputations. The motions were filed for very minor irregularities, such as the signature of a polling supervisor not matching that on their ID card, or the claim that there were three siblings in Puno in the same box, something that is forbidden by law. The identity of these three individuals has been revealed, and they have stated that they are not related and that where they live there are hundreds of people with the same surname.

Fake videos and photos that are being shared online have also been presented as proof of a conspiracy put together by Castillo’s party. Electoral experts consulted by EL PAÍS, such as Fernando Tuesta, the former chief of the National Office for Electoral Processes, believes that there is no proof of any wrongdoing.

Supporters of Pedro Castillo at a protest march in Lima on Thursday.
Supporters of Pedro Castillo at a protest march in Lima on Thursday.ERNESTO BENAVIDES (AFP)

The annulment of the votes that Fujimori wants would mean ignoring the will of entire areas, including some of the poorest and furthest from Lima and that have turned out to support Castillo at the ballot box. Fujimori is claiming that in some of these areas she didn’t garner a single vote. In these areas, where Castillo has campaigned with a discourse against the elites, he has swept the board, taking up to 90% of the vote in some regions. The results have made clear that Fujimori has had very little impact in the south of the country.

The National Election Board, the last body in this highly reliable system, will have the last word on a process that has already begun, and according to the experts, could take around two weeks.

Castillo, meanwhile, counts on the counsel of two prestigious former attorneys, Julio Arbizu and Ronald Gamarra. At one point, they went after Fujimori senior and his main consultant, Vladimiro Montesinos, both of whom are currently in prison. Castillo has been congratulated for his victory by the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, and other former leftist leaders in Latin America such as Brazil’s Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. “I wanted to acknowledge those political leaders who came to say to me, ‘how great it is that the people have woken up’,” Castillo said from the balcony of his party headquarters in Lima, from where he greets his supporters on a daily basis. “They have made this reality at the ballot boxes on June 6.” People have come from all over Peru to show their support for Castillo.

Other leaders, however, have not celebrated the victory with the same enthusiasm. Seventeen former presidents have issued a statement calling for no victor to be declared until the fraud accusations have been resolved. Among them are Spanish former prime minister José María Aznar, Álvaro Uribe of Colomba and Felipe Calderón of Mexico. They have called for the candidates to ensure that peace reigns among citizens. This is the fear ahead of these two weeks of uncertainty, with the supporters of both candidates taking to the streets and tensions on the rise.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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