Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori. Photo: AFP

Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed autocrat, leading tight Peru presidential race

  • Peru’s presidential election on a knife-edge after Sunday vote
  • Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo separated by razor-thin margin

Conservative Keiko Fujimori was clinging to a razor-thin lead in Peru’s presidential election race early on Monday but socialist rival Castillo Pedro was narrowing the gap, setting up a likely photo finish.

Uncertainty pervades a deeply polarised Peru over who will be its next president, with the official count showing Fujimori with 50.5 per cent and Castillo on around 49.5 per cent, with around 90 per cent of the vote counted and the gap narrowing with late votes expected to be more rural, favouring the leftist candidate.

An unofficial fast count late on Sunday by Ipsos Peru declared a “statistical draw” with Castillo having a fractional lead after an exit poll had said rival Fujimori would eke out a win, leaving the copper-rich Andean country, investors and mining firms guessing.

The likely photo finish could lead to days of uncertainty and tension, with the vote underscoring a sharp divide between capital city Lima and the nation’s rural hinterland that has propelled Castillo’s unexpected rise.

Peru’s new leader will need to tackle a country in crisis, suffering from recession and with the worst coronavirus fatality rate in the world after recording over 184,000 deaths among its 33 million population.

Peruvians will also look to the winner to end years of political turbulence after four presidents in the last three years, and with seven of the last 10 of the country’s leaders either having been convicted of or investigated for corruption.

Peru leads global mortality rate after adjusting Covid-19 death toll

Piero Corvetto, head of Peru’s top electoral body (ONPE) warned that many polling stations from rural areas – Castillo’s stronghold – had yet to be tallied.

“They haven’t counted our votes yet,” Castillo told supporters in Tacabamba, in the northern Cajamarca region where he lives.

Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo. Photo: EPA

Castillo, 51, had earlier urged his supporters to “stay calm”.

“Seeing how small the gap is, it is essential to maintain prudence and I say that for all Peruvians,” added Fujimori, who had earlier been seen hugging family and campaign staff following the exit poll.

Both candidates promised to respect the results when voting earlier in the day.

“We’re not going to know (the winner) until the last vote” is counted, political scientist Jessica Smith said.

“It’s still very unsure, the difference is too tight and we have to wait for the official result.”

Vaccine scandal: Peru says 487 officials got early Chinese shots

Castillo, 51, had topped the first round of voting in April, when the pair both caused a surprise by reaching the second round, and he was also narrowly ahead in the latest opinion polls before Sunday’s vote.

At the height of the political storm in November last year, Peru had three different presidents in just five days.

Two million Peruvians have lost their jobs during the pandemic and nearly a third of the country now live in poverty, according to official figures.

For voters, this was a choice between polar opposites.

Fujimori, 46, represents the neoliberal economic model of tax cuts and boosting private activity to generate jobs.

Keiko Fujimori and her father Alberto Fujimori, then Peru’s president, in 2000. File photo: AP

Fujimori’s bastion is the capital Lima, while Castillo’s bulwark is the rural deep interior.

Trade unionist schoolteacher Castillo has pledged to nationalise vital industries, raise taxes, eliminate tax exemptions and increase state regulation.

He voted in Tacabamba following a breakfast with his family.

Favoured by the business sector and middle classes, Fujimori tried to portray Castillo as a communist threat, warning that Peru would become a new Venezuela or North Korea should he win.

Castillo pointed to the Fujimori family’s history of corruption scandals. Keiko Fujimori is under investigation over campaign funding in her 2011 and 2016 presidential bids and has already spent 16 months in pre-trial detention.

Her father is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption.

Crisis-hit Peru gets new president, third in a week

“If Keiko is eventually elected, you can’t forget that this 50 per cent is not her real support but rather a reaction from an electorate that is afraid of what her opponent represents,” Smith said.

Whoever wins will have a hard time governing as Congress is fragmented. Castillo’s Free Peru is the largest single party, just ahead of Fujimori’s Popular Force, but without a majority.

“It won’t be easy (for Fujimori) given the mistrust her name and that of her family generates in many sectors. She’ll have to quickly calm the markets and generate ways to reactivate them,” added Smith.

If Castillo triumphs, he’ll have to “consolidate a parliamentary majority that will allow him to deliver his ambitious programme”.

But in either case “it will take time to calm the waters because there’s fierce polarisation and an atmosphere of social conflict,” analyst Luis Pasaraindico said.

Some 160,000 police and soldiers were deployed to guarantee peace on election day as 25 million people were due to vote, plus another one million from the Peruvian diaspora living in 75 countries around the world.

The new president will take office on July 28, replacing centrist interim leader Francisco Sagasti.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: presidential poll too close to call