Peru election on knife edge as leftist Castillo closes Fujimori’s lead

Volatility predicted in coming days with potential challenges to votes and recounts

A woman arrives to cast her vote at a polling station in northeast Peru. Photograph: Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty

A woman arrives to cast her vote at a polling station in northeast Peru. Photograph: Ernesto Benavides/AFP via Getty

 

Peru’s presidential election outcome was on a knife-edge on Monday, with conservative Keiko Fujimori clinging to a slender lead but socialist rival Pedro Castillo looking set to overhaul her in what could prove a photo finish in the polarised race.

The official count showed Ms Fujimori with about 50.1 per cent and Mr Castillo on 49.9 per cent, with nearly 93 per cent of the vote counted. The leftist candidate was taking as much as 70 per cent of newly counted votes in some updates and the gap was just 30,000 votes.

The tight result could lead to days of uncertainty and tension. The vote underscored a sharp divide between the capital city, Lima, and the nation’s rural hinterland that has propelled Mr Castillo’s unexpected rise.

An unofficial fast count late on Sunday by Ipsos Peru gave Castillo a fractional lead, after an exit poll had said Ms Fujimori would eke out a win, leaving the copper-rich Andean country, investors and mining firms guessing.

Volatile days

Lucia Dammert, a Peruvian academic based in Chile, predicted that the coming days would be volatile, with potential challenges to the votes and requests for recounts. She forecast protests particularly if Ms Fujimori were declared the winner.

“Whoever wins will have to dialogue with the [current interim] government and other political forces. We are in a polarised state,” said Lima-based political analyst Andres Calderon. “Right now the candidates need to remain calm.”

As first results trickled in on Sunday evening, Mr Castillo (51), the son of peasant farmers who has pledged to shake up Peru’s constitution and mining laws, had rallied supporters to “defend the vote”, though later called for calm.

Ms Fujimori (46), the daughter of ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is in prison for human rights abuses and corruption, also appealed for “prudence, calm and peace from both groups”.

Mr Castillo’s Free Peru party said on Twitter that the candidate, who had been in his northern rural home district to vote, would arrive in Lima on Monday morning, to “ensure the will of the people is respected”.