Supporters of Peru’s rival presidential candidates – socialist Pedro Castillo and rightwinger Keiko Fujimori – have taken to the streets amid uncertainty over a legal challenge to the outcome of the closely contested 6 June election.
Thousands of Castillo supporters marched on Saturday toward Plaza San Martín in the capital Lima, a 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 his apparent election win to be confirmed.
A few blocks away, thousands of others supporting Fujimori paraded with Peruvian flags and banners that read “no to fraud”, arriving at the Plaza Bolognesi, where a stage had been erected ahead of the expected arrival of the conservative.
Castillo holds a slender 44,000-vote lead over Fujimori with all ballots counted. But his rightwing rival has sought to disqualify votes, largely in rural areas that backed the leftist, making claims of fraud with little evidence.
Castillo’s Free Peru party has denied the allegations of fraud while international election observers have said the vote was carried out cleanly. The US state department described the process as a “model of democracy”.
Fujimori’s supporters included members of various right and centre-right parties, as well as retired military personnel who have backed her fraud claims. Many had banners saying “no to communism”, a criticism they often aim at Castillo.
“We are not Chavistas, we are not communists, we are not going to take away property from anyone, that is false … we are democratic,” Castillo told supporters on Saturday night. “The differences, the inequalities, are over.”
Many of his followers wore the same wide-brimmed hats Castillo has used in the campaign. Some wore outfits from the country’s Andean regions and danced, while others carried whips like those used by rural “ronderos,” or civil police.
Fujimori told her supporters on Saturday evening that she simply wanted electoral justice. “What we want is for all these irregularities to be analysed,” she said.
Castillo, a 51-year-old former elementary school teacher and the son of peasant farmers, plans to redraft the country’s constitution to give the state a more active role in the economy and take a larger share of profits from mining companies.
He has softened his rhetoric in recent weeks, however, in a bid to calm market fears. On Saturday, he said he would be keen to retain the central bank’s highly respected head, Julio Velarde, an important signal of stability for investors.
The already tense election process was plunged into disarray this week after one of the four magistrates on the jury reviewing contested ballots quit after clashing with the other officials over requests to nullify votes.
On Saturday the electoral jury swore in a replacement to allow the process to restart, key to restoring stability in the copper-rich Andean nation, which has been rattled by the tight vote.
“Electoral justice cannot be paralyzed or blocked, much less in this phase of the process,” said Jorge Salas, president of the national elections jury. “These interruptive arts will not prosper.”
The jury will restart its work reviewing contested ballots on Monday, a spokeswoman for the body said. It must complete the review before an official result can be announced.
The election has deeply divided Peruvians, with poorer rural voters rallying behind Castillo and wealthier urban voters from Lima supporting Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori.