Far-left candidate leads Peru into run-off presidential polls

Leftist Castillo in lead with 16 percent of the vote after surprise comeback as Peru deals with economic, COVID crises.

Pedro Castillo of Peru Libre party waves to the media after casting his vote, outside a polling station in Cajamarca, Peru April 11, 2021. Vidal Tarqui/ANDINA/Handout via Reuters]

Peruvian far-left candidate Pedro Castillo is set to win the Andean country’s first-round presidential election, though he will face a run-off vote in June with an electorate fragmented after a year of political and economic crisis.

That level of support falls well short of the majority needed to win outright, however, meaning Castillo will face the second-place candidate in a head-to-head vote.

The official count showed liberal economist Hernando de Soto in second place with 13.6 percent and the far-right’s Rafael Lopez Aliaga in third place with 12.9 percent. Conservative Keiko Fujimori was in fourth place also with 12.9 percent but was gaining ground as votes were counted. The fast count predicted she would come second.

The top two candidates will advance to a second round in June.

Free marketeer Fujimori is a deeply divisive figure whose father, a former President, was jailed for human rights abuses. She herself has spent time on remand over claims that she received $1.2m from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which she denies.

All former Peruvian presidents who governed since 1985 have been ensnared in corruption allegation, some imprisoned or arrested in their mansions. One, Alan Garcia, died by suicide before police could arrest him over graft allegations related to Odebrecht in 2019.

The election on Sunday came amid Peru’s deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic to date, with polling queues vying with lines of people seeking oxygen supplies for infected loved ones. Many voters said they turned out, despite fear of infection, merely to avoid the fine of 88 sol ($24) for not voting.

Eighteen candidates are running for the presidency in the tight race, which analysts have called Peru’s “most fragmented election” ever.

Castillo asks for calm

In Castillo’s home city of Cajamarca, in Peru’s northern highlands, there were celebrations following the early result indicator.

“I am grateful to the Peruvian people for this result,” Castillo told supporters, “and I ask for calm until the final results.”

Castillo, 51, a primary-school teacher and union leader, put on a late surge in the polls, proposing answers for many of Peru’s poorest people, particularly in the country’s largely rural interior.

Peru – among one of the world’s hardest-hit COVID-19 hit countries – has been in recession since the second quarter of last year after a lockdown forced businesses to close and crippled the tourism sector. More than 54,600 people have died from COVID-19, while four million people have lost their jobs and a further five million dropped into poverty.

Peru has also been convulsed by political upheaval driven by claims of corruption at the highest levels.

Castillo has promised to redraft the country’s 27-year-old constitution, one of the key demands of young protesters who launched last year’s anti-government demonstrations, with a view to weakening the business elite and giving the state a more dominant role in sectors such as mining, oil, hydropower, gas and communications.

Peru’s presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori of the Fuerza Popular party holds hands during a speech at party headquarters in Lima, Peru, April 11, 2021 [Sebastian Castaneda/ Reuters]

Peruvians also voted for legislators who make up the country’s 130-seat Congress, which looks set to remain highly fragmented with some 10 parties appearing to reach the threshold for representation in the legislature but none with a clear majority.

Source: News Agencies