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Amid Peru vote uncertainty, presidential hopeful risks custody

As Peru vote count continues, leftist Castillo assumes 'victory'
Rural school teacher Pedro Castillo has cast himself as the winner of Peru's presidential elections - Copyright AFP ISHARA S. KODIKARA
Rural school teacher Pedro Castillo has cast himself as the winner of Peru's presidential elections - Copyright AFP ISHARA S. KODIKARA
Francisco JARA

A Peruvian prosecutor on Thursday sought preventive custody for presidential hopeful Keiko Fujimori, who is disputing thousands of votes cast four days ago as she trails in the prolonged, nail-biting final count.

The stakes are high for Fujimori, 46, who faces a corruption trial that would be delayed if she wins her presidential race against far-left rival Pedro Castillo, who is clinging on to a narrow lead.

If Fujimori loses, she will go on trial. Prosecutors have said they would seek a jail term of more than 30 years for the rightwing populist leader on charges she took money from scandal-tainted Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to fund failed presidential bids in 2011 and 2016. 

She denies the charges, but has already spent 16 months in pre-trial detention.

Peruvians were on edge Thursday as it appeared they may have to wait days more for a final result as Fujimori claimed electoral fraud, and sought official relief.

Late Wednesday, she asked Peru’s National Electoral Tribunal (JNE) to annul the results from more than 800 polling stations, the equivalent of 200,000 votes. The tribunal is expected to take about 10 days to weigh the request.

Fujimori has also asked for another 300,000 ballots to be reviewed.

– Breaking parole –

If the JNE rules in Fujimori’s favor, it could change the outcome.

Rural school teacher and trade unionist Castillo is leading by about 70,000 votes with over 99 percent of the tally completed by Thursday.

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According to the ONPE electoral body, Castillo had 50.2 percent of the vote compared to 49.7 percent for Fujimori in her third presidential race.

Under Peruvian law, Fujimori was allowed to contest the election as she had not been convicted of a crime.

On Thursday, prosecutor Jose Domingo Perez asked an organized crime court to revoke Fujimori’s parole and remand her in custody for allegedly having met with a witness in a pending corruption case against her against her parole conditions.

The witness, Miguel Angel Torres, had accompanied her to a press conference on Wednesday.

– ‘Victory’ –

Peruvians voted on Sunday for their fifth president in three years after a series of crises and corruption scandals saw three different leaders in office in a single week last year.

Castillo on Wednesday said party observers considered his triumph a done deal, even as authorities held back on announcing an outcome.

“In the name of the Peruvian people,” he thanked “embassies and governments from Latin America and other countries” for messages of congratulations on his “victory.”

No government has officially recognized a Castillo triumph although Bolivia’s former leftist president Evo Morales sent a message of congratulations.

As tension grew, Castillo supporters rallied late Wednesday outside the vote counting office in Lima, while a pro-Fujimori crowd gathered in a park in the capital to denounce vote “fraud.”

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Peruvian authorities and election observers have dismissed any possibility of counting fraud.

As in Peru’s three previous presidential elections, also tightly-run, the tail-end of vote counting has been slow due to delays in the arrival of ballots in Lima from rural and jungle areas, and from abroad — where one million of the country’s 25 million eligible voters live.

Fujimori has taken most of the expat votes counted, but Castillo is popular among rural electors.

Whoever wins will lead a nation battered by recession and the world’s highest coronavirus death rate, with more than 187,000 deaths among its 33 million population.

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

Peruvians will also be looking for stability, with seven of their last 10 leaders either convicted or under investigation for graft.

Fujimori supports a neoliberal economic model of tax cuts and boosting private activity to generate jobs.

Castillo has pledged to nationalize vital industries, raise taxes and increase state regulation. 

Fujimori warned that Peru risked becoming a new Venezuela or North Korea under her rival, while Castillo has pointed to the Fujimori family’s history of corruption scandals.

Her father, ex-president Alberto Fujimori, is serving a jail sentence for corruption and ordering death squad massacres.

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