MS Risk Blog

Peru and its Political Prospect after Presidential Election

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Peru has completed the counting of ballots in a close presidential run-off election, but an official declaration might take several days.

The Peruvian electoral office, ONPE, announced on Thursday evening after all polling station records were processed that left-wing populist candidate Pedro Castillo had received 50.179 percent of the vote. Keiko Fujimori, his right-wing opponent, earned 49.821 percent of the vote. The difference was less than 63,000 votes. Peruvians voted under a period of tremendous political turmoil. It cycled through three presidents, suffered one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates and watched its economy shrink more than any in the region under the weight of the pandemic. Francisco Sagasti, the current president, is serving on an interim basis. After Congress decided to depose popular former leader Martin Vizcarra and Vizcarra’s successor, Manuel Merino, resigned, he became Peru’s fourth president in less than five years.

Many in the country hoped against the odds that the presidential election would offer a new start. Instead, nearly a week after the votes were cast, Peru is again gripped by uncertainty. The two candidates are in a tight race. One contender is claiming fraud and requesting that up to 200,000 ballots be thrown out, thus disenfranchising many poor and Indigenous voters. The other has called on his followers to go to the streets in order to protect those votes. The tension is straining democracy, increasing the schisms that run across a fundamentally divided nation and increasing concerns about the country’s future.

Castillo, a rural primary school teacher who has never held public office, campaigned on a promise to give states greater control over markets and natural resources as part of a plan to bring the benefits of economic growth to Peru’s poorest, despite warnings that his policies would recede the economy of the country like Venezuela.

Before winning the first round of the election, the primary school teacher was barely known, and she ran on a vow to aid the poor by raising taxes on big mining businesses in this copper-producing country. However, there are concerns that his initiatives could destabilise the country’s economy. Whoever wins will have a difficult challenge in uniting a divided country of 32 million people, whose economy has crumbled as a result of the recession.

On the other hand, Fujimori aimed to persuade voters that Peru’s current economic and political systems need adjusting rather than revamping, and that her administration would not result in further allegations of corruption and human rights abuses that marked her father Alberto Fujimori’s reign from 1990 to 2000.

However, it will likely take more days before a winner is announced. Authorities must continue calculate the results from polling locations whose results have been contested and are being reviewed by special election judges. Once the judges have addressed the issues, the count must be approved by the country’s National Jury of Elections (JNE). According to Peruvian law, a winner may be announced only after the JNE has reviewed all vote counts and settled any concerns from election observers. In Peru’s election system, there is no vote recount. According to the JNE President results might be available this month, but that the large number of nullification demands might postpone the process.

Ms. Fujimori requested that 300,000 ballots be reviewed, and 200,000 others be void. It might be days before a judgement is made on her petitions, as well as prospective appeals and reviews. Only then will the electoral tribunal be able to proclaim a winner.

Since 2018, Fujimori has been the subject of a corruption probe and money laundering. She spent 13 months in jail between 2018 and 2020, when she was released on parole. She has rejected the claims and has not been charged officially.

While ballots were still being tallied, the chief prosecutor in her case requested a court to sentence her to preventative jail. The request, according to Fujimori, was superfluous.

Ms. Fujimori has been accused of running a criminal organization that trafficked in illegal campaign donations and could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. Detained and released three times as the case proceeds, she is now accused by the prosecution of having contact with case witnesses, a violation of her release. If she is elected, she will be immune from prosecution for the duration of her five-year tenure.

The election, and the tensions it has stoked, are widening the schisms in Peruvian society.

Despite stable economic growth rates over the last two decades, Peru remains a severely unequal and divided country, with the richer and whiter population in its cities receiving the majority of the advantages of Ms. Fujimori’s father’s neoliberal economic model implemented in the 1990s.

When the pandemic swept across Peru, it widened existing social and economic divides, disproportionately affecting people that could not afford to stop working, lived in tight quarters, or had limited access to health care in a nation with a fragile safety net.

The elections were fought along the same economic, racial, and class lines, with Ms. Fujimori receiving the majority of her support from urban regions and Mr. Castillo from the rural highlands, which are home to many mixed-race and Indigenous Peruvians.

Hundreds of voters on both sides have taken to the streets to protest for their candidate, mostly peacefully and at times with musicians and dancers.

The malfunctioning of Peruvian institutions, on the other hand, has the potential to create new waves of dissatisfaction and upheaval, particularly as the government attempts to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations while still growing the economy. The emergence of polarising and even fringe presidential candidates in Peru may be a foreshadowing of what is to come elsewhere in Latin America, where high inequality, rising unemployment, fractured party systems, fiscal crises, and the worst effects of the pandemic are fuelling disdain for politics as usual.