Nine days after the presidential party election, the country that was once the economic star of South America, Peru, is facing political upheavals while the unsuccessful candidate claims the election was stolen and her supporters in the establishment demand new elections.
Right-wing candidate Keiko Puchimori, who received 49.9% of the vote compared to 50.1% of the vote received by left-wing candidate Pedro Castillo after counting all the ballots, calls for a recount after she claims there were “serious irregularities” in the election. Meanwhile, election observers have rejected her claim and international observers say the vote was transparent and clean.
The official result will not be announced until the Election Council decides whether to accept or reject Puhimori’s petitions seeking to cancel votes from areas where Castillo enjoys a leading position. But while Peru is waiting for a decision, the country is facing a period of political unrest, with tensions rising between Castio – a politically outsider – and his rivals in the country’s political and business establishment.
Disorder highlights the deepening polarization in Peru after a decline in its economy by 11% last year and the death toll per capita from the highest corona in the world. The confrontation between the two political extremes threatens government efforts to deal with the health crisis and the economic crisis and could lead to violence, political researchers say.
In an open letter from Monday, several retired commanders in the military, including a former defense minister and a 99-year-old former military dictator, said there were reasonable doubts about vote-rigging and warned of “severe instability”. A retired naval officer and right-wing politician elected to the congress, Jorge Montoya, are calling for the election to be canceled and re-held. On a popular conservative evening program, the facilitator said Puhimori supporters should take over the presidential palace, echoing former US President Donald Trump’s calls for his supporters to march on Capitol Hill to prevent lawmakers from approving President Joe Biden’s election.
The Ministry of Defense said that what retired army commanders say does not reflect the position of the army and the ministry will respect the constitutional order.
On Tuesday, supporters of Puhimori, who lost the 2016 election in a similarly close loss, demonstrated outside the Electoral Council offices in Lima, where it is receiving much support. Hundreds of miles away in the South Andes, where Castillo was swept away by voters, his supporters blocked roads with burning barricades, saying Puhimori was trying to steal the election.
“This rhetoric is taking things to extremes,” said Eduardo Dragent, a political scientist sitting in Lima. “I see a lot of danger that tensions will escalate.”
Castillo said on Tuesday that “a new era has begun” and that his government will represent all the citizens of Peru.
Puhimori seeks to disqualify some polling stations whose staff say there were irregularities.
Given the number of polls in question, it is possible that the election result will be reversed, although the likelihood is low in the absence of evidence of large-scale fraud, said Alfredo Torres, head of the Ipsos sampling agency in Peru and a well-known surveyor in the country.
“What has not been proven is that it was a systematic effort, something orchestrated,” Torres said.
The polling company Ipsus conducted a sample of the election night – in which members of the polling company count a large sample of real votes – and came to a result that largely reflected the result as reported by the Election Council.
Puhimori’s campaign manager, Nano Gera, said she would accept Castillo’s victory if approved by Election Council officials. But Gera also did not rule out the possibility that she would try to reverse the outcome in the courts.
“Once the winner is announced, even if it is in a single voice, we will honor it because any other action means challenging the institutions,” Gera said in an interview. “We will have to try to prevent his government from becoming a government of the extreme left.”
The calls of Puhimori’s right – wing supporters for a new election have a slim chance because the Peruvian constitution allows for repeat elections only in the event that more than two – thirds of the votes are disqualified. Torres said Puhimori’s petition should be examined in order to maintain democratic stability, even while Castillo is expected to be the winner.
However, some scholars say that Puhimori’s allegations of forgery were not intended to present a legitimate demand for a vote, but were a step aimed at delaying Castio’s announcement as president and thus undermining his government’s legitimacy even before he took office. Her party has direct responsibility for the removal of two presidents, though Puhimori has apologized for her role in the campaign.
“It was very disappointing to see the reactions of a lot of Peruvian citizens who on the one hand talk about democracy and respect for the vote but on the other hand are unwilling to accept the will of the people in Peru,” said Michael Shifter, who follows Peru in the Washington Inter-American Dialogue Policy Group.
Puhimori said in a video she posted earlier this week on social media that she doubts the election result “because of the protection of democracy, liberty and the rule of law.”
Many Peruvian citizens fear that Castillo, the head of the Marxist party that proposed sweeping nationalization of the economy, would introduce communist rule that would take away private property and deprive democratic rights, much as other dictatorial left-wing governments did in South America.
Although Castio has said he will keep the rule of law and has recently moderated his economic proposals, wealthy citizens are sending their money overseas, and middle-class families are converting savings into dollars while the local currency, the sol, has plummeted due to investor concerns.
Castillo has openly said he wants to convene a constituent assembly that will rewrite the constitution, a move taken by many left-wing regimes from Venezuela to Bolivia to strengthen their grip on power.
“There is no doubt that if Castio achieves the presidency, the disaster for the citizens of Peru will be inconceivable,” said Nobel laureate writer Mario Vargas Jose, who has long been a scathing critic of her and her father, former President Alberto Puhimori, who is in prison.
Vargas Llosa, who opposed South American dictators from the left and right and his voice in an influential country, said Monday he would recognize Castillo’s victory if the election authorities approved him.