Peruvian Election, Still Undecided, Pushes a Democracy to Its Brink

The two presidential candidates are locked in a close tie. One claims fraud and is seeking to annul tens of thousands of votes. Another has called his supporters on the streets.

LIMA, Peru – Peru has been through a year of intense turmoil: it has cycled through three presidents, suffered one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates and dented its economy under the weight of the pandemic. Under saw this area shrinking more than anyone.

Many in the country expected last Sunday’s presidential election to offer a fresh start. Instead, about a week after the vote was cast, Peru is again in the grip of uncertainty.

Both the candidates are in close contest. One candidate is alleging fraud and calling for the annulment of 200,000 votes – a move that would deprive many poor and Indigenous voters. Others have called their supporters in the streets To protect those votes.

The tension is pushing democracy to the limit, analysts said, intensifying the rifts running through a deeply divided society and raising concerns about the country’s future.

The country is enduring “this nuclear war in which Peruvian politics has fallen,” said political scientist Mauricio Zavaleta, in which politicians believe “the means justify.”

Together 99 percent In the vote count, Pedro Castillo, a left-wing former teacher with no prior governing experience, is ahead of Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former right-wing president Alberto Fujimori and the country’s founding icon, by nearly 70,000 votes. Of the votes counted, Mr. Castillo received about 50.2 percent, Ms. Fujimori 49.8 percent.

But Ms Fujimori asked officials to toss out thousands of votes, claiming without any solid evidence that her rival’s party violated the voting an orderly manner.

Electoral officials and observers say no evidence of systematic fraud has yet been presented, and analysts say Fujimori’s efforts will likely fail to turn the results in her favor.

Election officials have until Saturday to review requests for cancellation of votes counted at 802 polling stations for Ms. Fujimori’s party, where she is accusing Castillo supporters of a variety of illegal activities, including her Including changing the count of votes in favor.

Polling stations are in areas where Mr Castillo won by a strong margin – mainly poor and historically marginalized rural Andean regions, including Mr Castillo’s hometown.

By Thursday, a crowd of Castillo supporters had gathered outside the office of the National Election Authority. Some had traveled from afar, saying they were disappointed and worried that Fujimori was trying to steal the election.

“Protect the vote!” Some chanted.

“These are by far the most disastrous elections I have ever seen,” said Antonio Galvez, a 37-year-old taxi driver working in the protest. “Ms. Keiko Fujimori represents everything that is bad about Peruvian politics.

On Thursday, the crisis escalated when a prosecutor asked a judge to jail Fujimori, who is facing corruption charges related to a previous run for president.

Fujimori could face up to 30 years in prison for running a criminal organization that smuggles in illegal campaign donations. Detained and released three times as the case progressed, the prosecution has now been accused of contact with witnesses in the case, which is a violation of his release.

If she wins the election, she will be shielded from prosecution during her five-year term.

The election, and the tension it has created, is fueling divisions in Peruvian society.

Despite steady economic growth over the past two decades, Peru remains a deeply unequal and divided nation, with the rich and white in its cities reaping most of the benefits of the neoliberal economic model created by Ms. Fujimori’s father in the 1990s. Huh. .

When the pandemic broke out in Peru, it widened the social and economic gaps of those who could not afford to stop working, those who lived in cramped conditions, or those who had limited access to health care in a country with a weak safety net. was.

The elections were played along similar economic, racial and class lines, with Fujimori drawing most of her support from urban areas, and Castillo finding her base in the rural highlands, home to more mixed-race and indigenous Peruvians.

The political scientist, Mr Zavaleta, said he thought the election chaos, including Fujimori’s attempts to overturn votes, had “deepened differences among Peruvians.”

“And I believe it will have a relatively long-lasting effect,” he continued.

Outside the election authority on Thursday, 63-year-old Max Aguilar said he had traveled for hours by bus from the northern city of Chimbote to defend Mr Castillo.

“We believe the far right has already had enough time to show us that things can get better – and they haven’t,” he said.

“So we, the people, are saying no, that’s enough. And we’re betting on a change. We have a lot of confidence in Professor Castillo.”

Sofia Villamil contributed reporting from Bogota, Colombia.

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