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Peru’s presidential elections were at the forefront on Sunday night, when early unofficial tallyings showed socialist and conservative candidates were separated by a razor thin margin.
A quick vote count with 1 percent margin of error put the left-wing presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, an elementary school teacher and aspiring politician, up 0.4 percentage points.
A previous exit poll by Ipsos, with a higher margin of error of 3%, showed Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori, climbed 0.6 percentage points.
“This is still a statistical draw,” Ipsos Peru director Alfredo Torres said after the unofficial tally was announced. “There may be changes.”
The new results sparked an immediate celebration of “we won!” in Takabamba, a town in the Andes, closest to the poor village where Castillo was born and raised, and it is there that he awaits the results.
A tough race could lead to days of uncertainty as the official tally rolls in, and could spark public unrest if disaffected supporters of any candidate question the results.
Castillo had previously urged his supporters to take to the streets after an exit poll gave a slight advantage to his rival Fujimori.
“I ask our people to protect every voice,” Castillo wrote on Twitter. “I urge the Peruvian people from all over the country to take to the streets peacefully to be vigilant in defending democracy.”
Speaking to the crowd in Takabamba before a quick count through a megaphone from a balcony, Castillo called for calm.
“We have to be careful, people are wise,” said the 51-year-old schoolteacher, who has vowed to redistribute wealth and rewrite the constitution. “What we heard is not official.”
Fujimori said she postponed the sentencing until the official results, and also called for “caution, calmness and peace from both groups, those who voted and did not vote for us.”
Millions voted Sunday to choose between two candidates of conflicting ideologies in a second round of elections that deeply divided voters along class and geographic lines.
Opinion polls conducted prior to election day showed a statistically tied result, with Fujimori, who had previously lagged behind Castillo, slightly ahead at the end of the campaign.
Both pledged completely different means to save Peru from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis. The Andean country has the highest death rate from coronavirus in the world, with over 184,000 deaths among a population of 33 million. According to official figures, two million Peruvians also lost their jobs during the pandemic, and almost a third of the country now lives in poverty.
Fujimori, 46, pledged to pursue a free market model and maintain economic stability, while Castillo, 51, pledged to revise the country’s constitution to strengthen the role of the state, get most of the profits from mining companies and nationalize key industries – Peru is the second largest producer copper in the world.
In Lima, Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez said the initial exit poll results sparked protests from Castillo supporters who gathered outside the National Electoral Office.
A local TV reporter was beaten at the scene, she said.
“Everyone’s on the alert,” she said. “The Castillo and Fujimori parties are closely monitoring what is happening with the vote count. It’s a very intense race and people here are very worried. “
While voting in the Lima Surco district earlier Sunday, Fujimori noted that several reports of ballot tampering had been found in the capital and in the hinterland.
“We know that there were incidents today. We hope that the electoral authorities will take measures in this regard and appropriate sanctions will be adopted, ”she said. “I also expect our party officials to be on their guard.”
She praised the “grandparents” who came to vote amid the second wave of COVID-19 hitting the country and the slow start of the vaccination campaign.
Castillo voted in his rural hinterland in the northern Peruvian Andes, accompanied by a crowd of supporters who chanted, “Yes, we can!”
He had previously warned of electoral fraud and said he would “be the first to call the people” if he saw evidence of foul play. After the vote, he told a crowd of supporters that he would respect the outcome and expressed the hope that the Peruvians would unite around the winning candidate.
“If we do not unite, we will not be able to move the country forward,” Castillo said.
‘Atmosphere of social conflict’
In Lima, voters traveled to polling stations on bicycles, rollerblades and on foot to avoid the congestion that accumulated throughout the day.
Among the voters in Lima was Luis Pisango, who said that for him “transparency” is the key to a successful election.
“May Peru win for the benefit of all Peruvians,” he said.
According to polls, urban and higher-income residents preferred Fujimori, while the rural poor are largely supportive of Castillo.
However, whoever wins will have a hard time ruling as the Peruvian Congress is fragmented.
Free Peru Castillo is the largest party, ahead of the Fujimori People’s Power, but does not have a majority.
“It will not be easy (for Fujimori), given the mistrust in her name and her family name that is engendered in many areas. She will have to quickly calm the markets and find ways to reactivate them, ”political analyst Jessica Smith told AFP, referring to Fujimori’s 25-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption.
If Castillo wins, he will have to “consolidate a parliamentary majority that will enable him to pursue his ambitious agenda,” Smith said.
In any case, analyst Luis Pasarindico said that “it will take time to calm the water because there is intense polarization and an atmosphere of social conflict.”
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