LIMA (Dispatches) -- Nine days after a presidential runoff in Peru, electoral authorities have completed the vote count that showed Pedro Castillo edging out Keiko Fujimori by 44,058 ballots.
That means Castillo, a former school teacher who’s promised to redistribute wealth and who received the overwhelming backing of the country’s poor, received 50.1 percent of the votes against 49.9 percent for Fujimori, according to results published by the electoral council.
Yet the winner of the June 6 election won’t be declared until after Peru’s electoral court rules on thousands of disputed ballots that were deemed irregular by Fujimori’s party. That decision could take several days or weeks, during which tensions may soar in the politically volatile nation.
Castillo, who changed his Twitter profile description to “president-elect of Peru” after the final count was announced, has accused certain groups of trying to overturn the election’s result.
“We won’t allow that Peru’s oppressed people continue to be discriminated against,” he told reporters in Lima, before the final results were published. He later thanked Peruvians who voted for him and tweeted that “a new time has begun” in the country.
The standoff could quickly escalate. Fujimori’s supporters, from lawmakers to former military officials, are calling for new elections as they claim the new president would have no legitimacy to govern. Meanwhile, pro-Castillo’s demonstrators are coming from the countryside and gathering in front of the electoral court in Lima.
Fujimori has lost the previous two presidential runoffs despite being the heir to one of the country’s most powerful political clans. This time, she has refused to concede and promised to fight until the end, digging in on fraud allegations that haven’t been corroborated by independent election observers.
“The most important is still missing: the review of votes by the electoral jury,” she told supporters at a late Tuesday rally.
Castillo’s thin lead over Fujimori is more sizable than the 0.24% margin by which Fujimori lost to Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in the 2016 presidential election.
“Then, Fujimori did not demand a recount, but given the political and legal stakes for her, she may do this time round,” said Eileen Gavin, principal analyst of Global Markets and the Americas for risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
The review of votes currently being carried out by the electoral court could take up to two or three weeks as parties have presented more than 1,000 annulment appeals without any legal basis, according to Jorge Jauregui, a lawyer specializing in electoral law.
“There is no coherent, reasonable argument to say that the voting has been directed at polling stations,” he told Andina news agency in an interview.
Castillo has rattled the copper-rich Andean nation’s traditionally political and business elite as he has won widespread grassroots backing for pledges to rewrite the constitution and redistribute mining wealth.
“The people have awakened,” Castillo told supporters from a balcony in Lima last Thursday, calling on citizens to recover the country for all Peruvians after a divisive election race.
The ethics tribunal of the National Jury of Elections (JNE), the body charged with overseeing the legality of the electoral process, has said that throwing doubt on the results without evidence was “irresponsible.”
Washington, nevertheless, has waded into the controversy in favor of Fujimori, saying that electoral authorities should be allowed to look into her fraud allegations.
Despite being the world no.2 copper producer, Peru posted its worst economic plunge in three decades last year. The country has been hit by the world’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak by deaths per capita.
Fujimori is plagued by accusations she accepted illegal campaign contributions when she first ran for the presidency in 2011. She spent over a year in jail pending a trial.
Last week, prosecutor Jose Domingo Perez requested that Fujimori’s bail be revoked and she be returned to custody pending the trial, arguing that she had been in contact with a witness.
“Prosecutors are entitled to seek her jailing, but it will be interpreted by people as an attempt to meddle with the electoral process,” said Ernesto de la Jara, a Peruvian human rights lawyer.