Hard-left candidate Pedro Castillo has claimed victory in Peru's presidential election after the final count confirmed he had carved out the narrowest of margins over his rival Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the country's former dictator.
After 10 days of processing ballots cast on June 6th, electoral authorities on Tuesday reported Mr Castillo, a teachers union leader, finishing 0.25 per cent ahead of Ms Fujimori, a lead of just 44,058 votes from a total of almost 19 million cast.
Mr Castillo took to social media to celebrate his victory, writing: “Change is now! No more poor in a rich country!”
A rank outsider who stunned the country by coming first in April’s first round of voting, though with just 19 per cent of a fragmented field, the leftist was heavily backed in Peru’s poor interior, which feels excluded from recent decades of economic growth driven largely by Chinese demand for the country’s mineral wealth.
But Ms Fujimori is refusing to concede defeat, claiming she lost to systematic fraud. Electoral authorities are still examining votes for her opponent she has contested and it could be several more days before this process is concluded. The final winner is set to be sworn in on July 28th when Peru celebrates the bicentenary of its independence from Spain.
So far the Fujimori team has failed to provide evidence to back up its claim the vote was stolen and it has been heavily criticised for calling the integrity of the democratic process into question. The election was given a clean bill of health by observers from regional body the Organisation of American States.
Ms Fujimori told supporters at a rally in the capital Lima on Tuesday night that she was fighting “to defend Peru’s democracy”. But elements of the country’s elite that have backed her are calling for the June 6th vote to be annulled to avoid Mr Castillo taking power.
Retired admiral Jorge Montoya, who will sit in the new congress for a far-right party, was accused of sedition when he said the result of the second round could not be trusted and should be re-run. Last week the leadership of the armed forces was forced to issue a statement recommitting it to democracy amid mounting calls from Fujimori supporters for a military coup to prevent the left coming to power.
Ms Fujimori is facing up to 30 years in prison for corruption should her presidential bid fail. Her father Alberto is in jail for human rights abuses committed during his dictatorship, which ended in 2000.
Meanwhile, the country's outgoing congress has been criticised by among others interim president Francisco Sagasti for its attempts to enact a lightening constitutional reform that appears designed to restrict the powers of whoever is finally declared the election's winner.
In recent years Peru has suffered from chronic political instability with presidents and the legislature frequently locked in bitter power struggles. Mr Sagasti is the country’s fourth president since the last elections in 2016.