Supporters of rival Peru’s presidential candidates – socialist Pedro Castillo and right-winger Keiko Fujimori – have taken to the streets amid uncertainty over a legal challenge to the outcome of the hotly contested June 6 election.
Thousands of Castillo supporters marched to Plaza San Martín in the capital Lima on Saturday, one block from the headquarters of the electoral jury that will decide the outcome. They carried giant banners and photos of the socialist candidate, calling for confirmation of his apparent electoral victory.
A few blocks away, thousands of others supporting Fujimori marched with Peruvian flags and ‘no to fraud’ banners, arriving at Plaza Bolognesi, where a stage had been erected before the expected arrival of the conservatives. .
Castillo holds a slim 44,000 vote lead over Fujimori with all the ballots counted. But his right-wing rival sought to disqualify votes, mostly in rural areas that supported the left, making allegations of fraud with little evidence.
Castillo’s Free Peru Party denied the fraud allegations while international election observers said the vote went smoothly. The US State Department has called the process a “model of democracy.”
Fujimori’s supporters included members of various right-wing and center-right parties, as well as retired military personnel who supported his allegations of fraud. Many had banners saying “No to Communism,” a criticism they often leveled at Castillo.
“We are not Chavistas, we are not Communists, we are not going to take property from anyone, this is wrong (…) we are Democrats,” Castillo told his supporters on Saturday evening. “The differences, the inequalities, it’s over. “
Many of his supporters wore the same wide-brimmed hats that Castillo used in the campaign. Some wore outfits from the Andean regions of the country and danced, while others wore whips like those used by rural “ronderos” or civilian police.
Fujimori told supporters on Saturday night that she just wanted electoral justice. “What we want is for all these irregularities to be analyzed,” she said.
Castillo, a 51-year-old former schoolteacher and son of peasants, plans to overhaul the country’s constitution to give the state a more active role in the economy and take a larger share of the profits of mining companies.
He has softened his rhetoric in recent weeks, however, in an effort to allay market fears. On Saturday, he said he would be keen to retain the well-respected central bank chairman Julio Velarde, an important signal of stability for investors.
The already tense electoral process was plunged into disarray this week after one of the four judges on the jury reviewing the disputed ballots resigned after clashing with other officials over requests to quash votes.
On Saturday, the electoral jury took an oath to a replacement to allow the process to restart, key to restoring stability in the copper-rich Andean nation, which was rocked by the tight vote.
“Electoral justice cannot be paralyzed or blocked, let alone in this phase of the process,” said Jorge Salas, president of the national elections jury. “These disruptive arts will not thrive. “
The jury will resume work examining the disputed ballots on Monday, a spokesperson for the organization said. He must complete the exam before an official result can be announced.
The election deeply divided the Peruvians, with the poorest rural voters rallying in Castillo and the wealthier urban voters in Lima supporting Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.