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LATIN AMERICA | 11-06-2021 02:54

Tensions rise in Peru, with presidential vote result still days away

Keiko Fujimori’s legal woes flare up again as she challenges results of Peru run-off. Leftist Pedro Castillo considers himself the winner, but final results may still be days away.

Final results from Peru's presidential election – in which leftist Pedro Castillo considers himself the winner – are still days away, officials said Thursday, as a prosecutor sought preventive custody for corruption-accused candidate Keiko Fujimori.

Right-wing populist Fujimori, the daughter of a scandal-tainted former Peruvian president who has been jailed three times since 2018, is disputing thousands of votes cast four days earlier as she trails in the nail-biting final count. Her corruption trial would be delayed if she wins her presidential race against Castillo, who is clinging to a narrow lead.

Prosecutors have said they would seek a jail term on charges of taking money from scandal-tainted Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to fund failed presidential bids in 2011 and 2016. The 46-year-old denies allegations of money-laundering and leading a criminal organisation, but has already spent 16 months in pre-trial detention, though she has not been convicted. Her husband and several of her closest aides are also under investigation.

Late Wednesday Fujimori, who has claimed electoral fraud, asked Peru's National Electoral Tribunal (JNE) to annul the results from more than 800 polling stations, the equivalent of 200,000 votes. The tribunal is expected to take about 10 days to weigh the request.

Fujimori has also asked for another 300,000 ballots to be reviewed. If the JNE rules in Fujimori's favour, it could shift the balance.

“Five-hundred thousand votes are still at stake here, half a million votes nationwide, that we believe are essential to be analysed for the elections jury’s final count,” she said in a statement.

Rural school teacher and trade unionist Castillo was leading by about 70,000 votes with over 99 percent of the tally completed by Thursday.

According to the ONPE electoral body, Castillo had 50.18 percent of the vote compared to 49.81 percent for Fujimori in her third presidential race.

Under Peruvian law, Fujimori was allowed to contest the election as she had not been convicted of a crime.

On Thursday, prosecutor José Domingo Pérez asked an organised crime court to take Fujimori into custody for allegedly having met with a witness in the case, violating the conditions of her parole.

The witness, Miguel Ángel Torres, had accompanied Fujimori to a press conference on Wednesday.

"There is no fear that this preventive detention will take place," the candidate said in reaction to the prosecutor's request.

Fujimori claimed Pérez was attempting "to distract us, unsettle us." 

A speaker for Fujimori’s party said her defense is being prepared and she is ready to attend any hearings she may be summoned to. The national prosecutor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It gives the feeling that she wants to question the entire electoral process. This uncertainty, whoever wins, is going to hit the national mood a lot," said analyst Hugo Otero.

Peruvians voted last Sunday for their fifth president in three years after a series of crises and corruption scandals saw three different leaders in office in a single week last year. Political instability and uncertainty is rampant.

In a statement on Thursday, Peru influential Peruvian business association Confiep, which in previous elections supported Fujimori, called on both candidates i to "respect the final decision" of the JNE.


 

Argentina leads congratulations

Despite there being no official result, Argentina's President Alberto Fernández on Thursday became the first sitting leader to congratulate Castillo as Peru's "president-elect."

The Peronist leader said on Twitter he had contacted Castillo and "expressed my wish that we join forces in favour of Latin America."

Bolivia's former leftist president Evo Morales sent a message of congratulations, while Brazil's ex-leader Luis Inácio Lula da Silva celebrated Castillo's "victory" on Twitter and said the result "represents another advance for the popular struggle in our beloved Latin America." 

Greetings also arrived from Bolivian President Luis Arce, and the vice-president and first lady of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo. 

Brazil's leader, far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, lamented the possible leftist victory, telling an evangelical event that a "miracle" was needed to stop it.

As tension grew, Castillo supporters rallied outside the vote counting office in Lima, while a pro-Fujimori crowd gathered in a park in the capital to denounce vote "fraud."

Peruvian authorities and election observers have dismissed any possibility of vote-counting fraud. Peru’s President Francisco Sagasti also said that there are no signs of fraud in the election.

As in Peru's three previous presidential elections, the tail-end of vote counting has been slow due to delays in the arrival of ballots in Lima from rural and jungle areas, and from abroad – where one million of the country's 25 million eligible voters live. Fujimori has taken most of the expat votes, but Castillo is popular among rural electors.

Whoever wins will lead a nation battered by recession and the world's highest coronavirus death rate, with more than 187,000 deaths among its 33 million population. Two million Peruvians lost their jobs during the pandemic and nearly a third now live in poverty, official figures show.

Castillo signalled on Tuesday that he won the vote. The 51-year-old received visits on Thursday from two first-round presidential candidates from minority centre-right parties, George Forsyth and Daniel Salaverry, who  Later he addressed supporters from the balcony of his party headquarters in Lima.

"I want to extend a greeting for those we have received today, from organisations in other countries, from teachers in other countries in Latin America, from the president of Bolivia, from president Fernández in Argentina, from the president of Nicaragua," he said. "A Latin American greeting to you all!"

"I will never take advantage of a democratic space to clean up my debts, to clean up my crimes," he said, in an allusion to his rival.

The Peru Libre leader is now speaking every night from the balcony of his party headquarters, in what local media have dubbed "balconazos."

The Peruvian sol was the worst performing emerging-market currency on Thursday, down 1.5 percent, as uncertainty about the electoral process poured cold water on a rally driven by Castillo’s attempt to assuage investors who fear his possible victory. In recent weeks has tried to reassure investors and voters that he doesn’t want to overhaul the nation’s economic model.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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