Peru Election Results Held Up After Going To The WireAlso Read - Peru Declares 90-Day Environmental Emergency Following Oil Spill

Peru had voted on June 6 to elect a new President for a five-year term. The run off was expected to be a closely fought battle and with all the votes counted there are less than 45000 votes separating the two contestants – the rural teacher left leaning Pedro Castillo and the urban elite right winger Keiko Fujimori. Declarations of results have been held up for almost a month due to unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud by Fujimori. The elections have been deemed to be fair and transparent by the 150 national and international observers and it increasingly looks like a desperate ploy by Fujimori to prolong the stalemate beyond July 28, the deadline to have a new President, thus precipitate a constitutional crisis and possibly fresh elections. Also Read - Lawyer Caught Stripping Naked & Having Sex with 'Client' During Zoom Court Hearing, To Face Probe

In the first round of elections on Apr 11, Peruvians voted to elect legislators to the 130 member parliament. Simultaneously they also narrowed down from a field of 18 presidential hopefuls. Despite the field being diverse more than 30% of the electorate had indicated “none” as their choice in opinion polls. The trend was unsurprising as the Peruvians have been choosing between “lesser evil” since last three elections. The credentials of the candidates in fray did not exude much confidence as it contained “convicted felons, presumed money launderers, xenophobes, a fascist billionaire, an overrated and outdated economist, a retired mediocre footballer, a person accused of murdering a journalist, and other colorful figures”. Also Read - Machu Picchu in Peru Reopens After 8 Months, But Only For 1 Japanese Tourist. Know Why

In a surprise of sorts the socialist Pedro Castillo, a school teacher from Cajamarca, one of the poorest regions in Peru despite being the location of South America’s largest gold mine took the top spot with 19% of the votes. He had been coming in 7th in the opinion polls barely months ago. Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former President Alberto Fujimori, came in second with 13% of the votes and headed for a run-off.

Keiko Fujimori continued the polarizing legacy of her father Alberto Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent who is credited with stabilizing the economy in 1990s as well as dealing with the ultra-left insurgents in the country side with a firm hand. Wide scale human rights abuse, extra judicial killings and estimated embezzlement of $2 billion lead to his impeachment, subsequent trial and a 25 year conviction which he is still serving. The association with her father’s legacy cost her the 2011 elections as the electorate feared the return of authoritarianism and she ended up with 48.66% compared to 51.34% polled by Ollanta Humala. She led the field with 40% votes in the 2016 elections before a scandal associating her party with drug trafficking and money laundering saw her fall painfully short (49.88%) against 50.12% of eventual winner Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Last five years have been a tumultuous period seeing as many as four presidents and the old guard has rallied around Fujimori.

The choice of her challenger couldn’t be more symbolic. In a “rich country full of poor people” where the source of wealth is scattered in the countryside and its proceeds are concentrated in Lima, Castillo represented not only a challenge to Fujimori, the government but to the power structure itself. His campaign promise of rewriting the Fujimorist constitution, renegotiating contracts with the powerful mining industry and revisiting the tax structures accentuated the fault lines and polarized the elections between the urban-rural on one hand and the haves-have nots on the other. Latin American polity has a rich folklore of left leaning messiahs rising from nowhere to capture power and Castillo’s emergence resonated with the impoverished Peruvians who rallied behind his promise of a more equitable distribution of wealth.

The scars of Covid-19 provided the immediate backdrop to the elections. Peru has had the highest Covid-19 fatality per capita in the world and has ravaged its health infrastructure and its economy tanked -30%, the highest amongst all major economies. Peru has lost 0.5% of its population to the pandemic and it marginalized issues related to chronic corruption to an extent. Most revealing and symptomatic was the Odebrecht scandal which discredited the entire political elite of Peru. The scandal lead to the suicide of a former president, arrest of another and resignation of a third. Keiko Fujimori herself is under investigation for her involvement and was put under pretrial detention.

From a long term perspective, Fujimori can’t afford be to losing her third consecutive election. She has gone on record to say that she would use presidential pardon to get her ageing father out of jail and time is running out for that. But more importantly her own political survival is at stake as the Presidentship will provide her with a five year immunity where she can’t be tried for her involvement in the Odebrecht affair.

It is not at all surprising that she refuses to concede the election that she has lost fair and square although narrowly (49.87% vs 50.13%). She has taken a leaf out of the US presidential campaign and has been claiming electoral fraud without being able to provide any evidence. She wants close to 200000 rural votes annulled citing electoral irregularity – an exact replica of what former US President Trump kept on doing for months. It remains to be seen if the son of the soil Pedro Castillo is able to ace this “trump card” that her opponent has up her sleeve.

Zeyaur Rahman holds a Masters degree from JNU. Worldscape is his weekly column on socio-political affairs. He also curates subaltern historical content in his blogs. He can be reached on rahman_zeyaur30@gmail.com