Who really won Peru’s presidential election?

We will probably never know how many votes Keiko Fujimori obtained in one of Peru’s most polarized presidential elections in recent history and whether her rival, Pedro Castillo, who seems close to being declared the winner by the country’s electoral body, would have obtained the most votes in the absence of irregularities that are the object of intense dispute. 

The third-time pro-business candidate, and daughter of jailed former strongman Alberto Fujimori, is running behind Pedro Castillo, the dark-horse candidate who admires Latin America’s socialist autocrats and was placed at the head of the ticket by the leader of a Marxist-Leninist organization who could not run himself for legal reasons, by a razor-thin margin in a vote count that has turned into high drama since the June 6 election.

At stake is the future of a country of 33 million people that until recently was the darling of foreign investors and the object of international praise for having reduced poverty from 58 percent to 21 percent between 2004 and 2018 through market-friendly policies and fiscal and monetary discipline. In the last few years, economic growth slowed due to the lack of new reforms, fragile institutions, political divisions that saw several presidents toppled, and the pandemic, which has killed 190,000 people and kicked ten percent of the population out of the middle class, raising by fifty percent the number of Peruvians in poverty. This context fueled the meteoric rise of Castillo, whose anti-establishment discourse and Marxist-Leninist affiliation sent millions of voters who had previously opposed Fujimori into her camp, making for a deeply contested election in which she had to publicly swear she would respect the constitution and ask forgiveness for her political conduct in recent years, particularly the obstructionism her party, which held a majority in Congress, practiced against the executive power.

On election night, the exit poll of a highly respected organization gave Fujimori a small lead, which was subsequently reversed in a quick count, a technique based on a sample of actual results. Soon it began to look as though Castillo’s organization, Peru Libre, had mounted a well-oiled operation to deny Fujimori, who cried foul, many votes. In the South, where Fujimori’s support is small, she was not able to field party advocates at many of the polling stations. Castillo’s organization engaged in several irregular practices in an undetermined number of stations with no opposition from Fujimori representatives. These included supplanting the official board members responsible for each station, falsifying signatures and controlling the tallies, which in several stations gave Fujimori zero votes despite the fact that in the first round of the elections she and other parties that supported her in the runoff had obtained votes. 

In Lima and the North, meanwhile, where Fujimori’s support was strong, Castillo’s representatives contested the official vote tallies in scores of polling stations where she won by a large margin, ensuring that those votes would be withheld from the overall count until further review by special electoral bodies. 

Both practices (the aforementioned irregularities in the South and the contested votes in Lima and the North) may well have influenced the result of the quick count, which is based on non-contested vote tallies from polling stations, and, more importantly, the result of the overall national count. 

Fujimori asked the electoral body to review hundreds of thousands of votes, but in a highly suspect move, after deciding to extend the deadline for evidence to be presented, its members reversed their decision, ensuring that only a small number of votes would be reviewed. Given that Castillo is running ahead of Fujimori by just under fifty thousand votes in an election where each candidate has officially obtained nearly nine million votes, the decision ensures we will never actually know how many votes Fujimori really got.

The result is a deeply fractured country and the very real risk that Castillo, if confirmed, will keep his promise to replace the elected Congress with a constituent assembly that will write the sort of constitution that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales had their political stooges write for them in their day, and turn Peru’s into a socialist, state-run command economy.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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