With 90.97% of the official counting completed in Peru, right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori, 46, has 50.27% of the votes against 49.72% of leftist Pedro Castillo, 51. The difference, which amounts to just over 88,000 votes, reflects the polarization of the Peruvian political scene as the country chooses the fifth person to hold the presidency since 2018.
The first reports by Onpe, the electoral body responsible for the official counting of votes, contain votes from urban areas. The remaining percentage, which takes longer to be analyzed, comes from rural areas of Peru and citizens who vote abroad — strongholds that, according to voting intention polls, tend to favor Castillo.
Keiko’s voters even claimed victory when Onpe released the first reports. With 42% of the votes counted, the daughter of autocrat Alberto Fujimori, who led the country between 1990 and 2000, came out ahead with almost six points ahead.
The numbers sparked explosions of jubilation in wealthy neighborhoods in Lima, where people flocked to windows shouting “Long Live Peru!” and “Keiko won!”. The more conservative electorate fears the country will “fall into communism” if Castillo is elected president.
The candidate, however, reacted with moderation and urged caution from her voters due to the small margin of difference. “Here there is no winner or loser. What must be sought is the unity of all Peruvians,” said Keiko.
Hours earlier, the Ipsos Institute exit poll had also given the rightist a victory — 50.3% of the votes against 49.7% for Castillo. Later, however, a quick count by the same institute revealed an inverse result, with 50.2% for the rural school teacher and 49.8% for the former congresswoman.
Screams of victory also multiplied after the announcement of the favorable result for the leftist in Tacabamba, the Andean city closest to the impoverished village where Castillo was born and raised. A crowd of supporters gathered in the main square, violating the curfew imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
“I ask our people to defend every vote,” Castillo wrote on Twitter when the initial prediction suggested he would lose. “I invite the Peruvian people from all corners of the country to take to the streets in peace to be vigilant in defending democracy.”
In a statement, his party, Peru Libre, defined the second Ipsos survey as “misleading”, citing divergences in similar polls in the first round, despite the numbers showing a slight advantage for the candidate. In the communiqué, the caption calls for a review of the voting minutes under scrutiny by observers from both parties involved in the presidential dispute.
Keiko Fujimori could end up being Peru’s first president, a goal she’s been working toward for 15 years, ever since she took on the task of rebuilding almost from the ashes the right-wing political movement founded by her father in 1990.
But losing at the polls would not only mean her third defeat at the polls — she has already been a candidate in 2011 and 2016, losing both times in the second round. She would also have to go to trial or risk ending up in prison.
Keiko is being investigated in the case of illegal contributions by Brazilian contractor Odebrecht, a scandal that also affected four former Peruvian presidents, and has already spent 16 months in preventive detention for it. If she wins, she will set a precedent by being the first woman in the Americas to come to power in the footsteps of her father, whose term was marked by a series of allegations of human rights violations.
On the other side is Castillo, who, if successful, will be the first Peruvian president without ties to political, economic and cultural elites. A trade unionist and high school teacher, he became nationally known for leading teacher strikes, the most famous of them in 2017. He advocates higher salaries for employees in the education sector, has an anti-corruption speech and proposes to dissolve the Constitutional Court and the 1993 Constitution —according to him, those responsible for allowing irregular practices.
The winner of the election must assume the Presidency of Peru on July 28th. The representative will need to take the reins of a country in crisis that has had four different leaders since 2018.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, known as the PPK, resigned that year accusing the opposition of creating an “ungovernable climate”. His successor, Martín Vizcarra, was removed in November 2020 after facing two impeachment processes, on the accusation of receiving bribes, which would place him in the category of “moral incapacity”, preventing his continuation in office.
As a result, Congressman Manuel Merino de Lama took over, for just six days, who resigned after the episodes of violence that came in the wake of the institutional crisis. The country’s current leader, Francisco Sagasti, took over the government on an interim basis, and is expected to remain in office until the transition to Keiko or Castillo.
Peru also has the highest mortality rate in the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 185,000 deaths in a population of 33 million inhabitants. Last year, the health crisis forced the economy to be semi-paralyzed for more than 100 days, which led to a recession and a drop in GDP of 11.12%.
Both candidates promised very different solutions to rescue Peru from economic stagnation. Keiko, if elected, intends to follow the free market model to try to maintain stability in the world’s second-largest copper producer. Castillo wants, through constitutional reform, to strengthen the role of the state, obtain a greater share of the mining companies’ profits and nationalize essential industries.
For political analysts, whoever gets elected will have a weakened mandate due to polarization in Peru, and will face a fragmented Congress, with no party holding a majority, potentially delaying any major reforms.