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Peru on edge as socialist Castillo holds razor-thin lead in polarized vote

Peru’s presidential candidate Pedro Castillo addresses supporters, in Tacabamba, Peru June 6, 2021. REUTERS/Alessandro Cinque

Peru’s presidential election was on a knife edge on Sunday night with early unofficial counts showing the socialist and conservative candidates separated by a razor-thin margin in the polarized vote.

A quick count of votes with a 1% 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, with a higher 3% error margin put Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori, up by 0.6 of a percentage point.

The new quick-count 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.

“I ask our people to defend every vote,” Castillo wrote on Twitter. “I call on Peruvian people from all corners of the country to go to the streets in peace to be vigilant in the defense of democracy.”

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

“We must be prudent, the people are wise,” said the 51-year-old schoolteacher who has vowed to redistribute wealth and rewrite the constitution. “What we have heard is not official.”

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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.”

CROWDS GATHER

Reuters witnesses reported a small crowd of people gathering outside the headquarters of Castillo’s Peru Libre party in the capital Lima, while the number of supporters in Tacabamba grew larger and more cheerful following the quick count.

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

Polls showed urban and higher-income citizens prefer Fujimori, while the rural poor largely support Castillo.

Both candidates have pledged vastly different remedies for rescuing Peru from the economic doldrums brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, which has seen it lead the world in per capital deaths.

Fujimori, the 46-year-old who has tilted at the presidency twice before, has pledged to follow the free-market model and maintain economic stability in the world’s second-largest copper producer.

Castillo, the son of peasant farmers, 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 nationalize key industries.

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

“We know that there have been incidents today. We hope that the electoral bodies will take action on the matter and sanctions will be issued accordingly,” she said. “I also expect our party officials to be on their guard.”

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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.

Among those casting his vote in Lima was Luis Pizango, who said that for him, “transparency” was key to a successful election.

“May Peru win for the good of all Peruvians,” he said.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Source: Reuters

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