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Castillo claims win in tight Peru presidential poll

By SERGIO HELD in Cajica, Colombia | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-11 09:37

Peru's socialist candidate Pedro Castillo gestures as he speaks during the last debate with his opponent, right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori (not pictured) ahead of the June 6 run-off election, in Arequipa, Peru, on May 30, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Left-wing union leader Pedro Castillo on Wednesday claimed victory in Peru's presidential election as he held on to a wafer-thin margin in the vote count over his conservative rival Keiko Fujimori.

Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, has claimed irregularities in the process, with "signs of fraud". She has suggested as many as 500,000 ballots cast in the runoff election on Sunday need to be recounted.

By Wednesday afternoon, Castillo had 50.2 percent of the vote compared with Fujimori's 49.8 percent, with 99.9 percent of the runoff ballots counted. Just 67,116 votes separated the presidential race's final two contenders out of the more than 17.4 million ballots registered.

Fujimori's team has indicated that it plans to raise a legal challenge. The right-wing candidate offered no evidence to back up her claims of foul play.

It's the third presidential election that Fujimori has contested, having been the runner-up in the last two cycles. In 2016, she lost by just 0.24 of a percentage point.

Castillo's Free Peru party has rejected claims that its supporters tried to steal votes. Election observers, which included representatives from the Organization of American States, have said that the vote was clean.

Castillo was hardly known to Peruvians just months ago.

"He is from a peasant origin, a primary teacher with a leadership position at unions linked to the education sector," said Ramon Abasolo, a lawyer and political analyst in the capital Lima. "It was there where he began his political career, in rural areas.

"He was just nowhere to be found in the opinion polls, until the last two weeks before the first round of elections. It was a true surprise for many, since before then, no surveys were giving him any chance."

Castillo came close to claiming victory late on Monday. "We already have the official party tally, where the people have won this fight," he told supporters, referring to an unofficial vote count conducted by Free Peru.

Dual pressures

The challenges for Castillo, if his victory is confirmed, will be both political and economic. His campaign was based on proposals for wholesale changes to the country's economic system.

Castillo will need to ensure that his promised reforms do not unnerve foreign investors or unsettle the financial markets. Also, he will have to focus on bringing the country's deadly COVID-19 outbreak under control.

"Castillo's plans bring a great deal of uncertainty for both Peru and the region," said Erick Behar, dean at the Faculty of Business of the Berlin International University of Applied Sciences.

"He has clearly stated that his reforms will include rewriting the constitution and nationalizing key resources, which will impact the copper market, as Peru depends heavily on its mining exports."

A key economic adviser to Castillo told the media that the left-wing candidate would maintain a market economy if named president and there would not be massive state interventions in the economy.

Castillo, 51, as a union leader, participated in large protests against the government in 2017.

The path is now unclear for Fujimori, 46, and her Popular Force party. Her father Alberto Fujimori ruled the country between 1990 and 2000 and was later jailed after being convicted of various offenses.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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