Peru begins vote counting in tight presidential runoff

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Peru’s presidential election is on a knife edge with early unofficial counts showing the socialist and conservative candidates separated by a razor-thin margin.

A quick count of votes with a 1 percent error margin put leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, an elementary school teacher and novice politician, ahead by 0.4 of a percentage point.

A previous exit poll by Ipsos, with a higher 3 percent error margin put Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori, up by 0.6 of a percentage point.

“It’s still a statistical draw,” said Ipsos Peru director Alfredo Torres after the unofficial count was announced. “There could be changes.”

The new results triggered immediate celebrations of “we won!” in Tacabamba, the Andean town closest to the impoverished village where Castillo was born and raised, which is also where he is waiting for the results.

The tight race could lead to days of uncertainty as official counts trickle in, and may trigger social unrest if disillusioned supporters of either candidate question the results.

Castillo had earlier called his supporters out onto the streets after the exit poll gave a slender lead to his rival Fujimori.

Speaking before the quick count via megaphone from a balcony to crowds in Tacabamba, Castillo appealed for calm.

Fujimori said she was reserving judgement until the official results, and also appealed for “prudence, calm and peace from both groups, those who voted and did not vote for us”.

Millions voted on Sunday to pick between two candidates espousing clashing ideologies in a runoff election that has deeply divided voters along class and geographical lines.

Opinion polls up to the day of the election showed a statistical dead heat, with Fujimori, who had earlier trailed Castillo, pulling slightly ahead at the end of campaigning.

Both have pledged vastly different remedies for rescuing Peru from the economic doldrums brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. The Andean country has the worst coronavirus death rate in the world, recording more than 184,000 deaths among its 33 million population. Two million Peruvians have also lost their jobs during the pandemic and nearly a third of the country now lives in poverty, according to official figures

Fujimori, 46, has pledged to follow the free-market model and maintain economic stability, while Castillo, 51, has promised to redraft the country’s constitution to strengthen the role of the state, take a larger portion of profits from mining firms and nationalise key industries – Peru is the world’s second-biggest producer of copper.

Earlier on Sunday, voting in the Lima district of Surco, Fujimori noted that a handful of allegations of doctored voting papers discovered in the capital and the country’s interior.

She praised the “grannies and grandpas” turning out to vote against a backdrop of a second wave of COVID-19 hitting the country and a slow start to the vaccination campaign.

Castillo had voted in his rural heartland of the northern Peruvian Andes, accompanied by a crowd of supporters chanting: “Yes we can!”

He previously warned against fraud in the election and said he would “be the first to summon the people” if he saw evidence of foul play. After casting his ballot, he told crowds of supporters that he would respect the result, and hoped Peruvians would unify behind the successful candidate.

In Lima, voters made their way to polling stations by bike, roller skates and on foot to avoid long traffic jams that built up as the day progressed.

In polls, urban and higher-income citizens have indicated a preference for Fujimori, while the rural poor largely support Castillo.

Aljazeera

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