Leftist teacher inches toward victory in disputed Peru vote


LIMA, Peru — Peru finished tallying votes in the country’s tight presidential contest Thursday but no winner was declared, with electoral authorities saying they were scrutinizing a small number of ballots amid unproven claims of possible vote tampering leveled by the apparent loser.

With votes from rural areas and Peruvian embassies abroad now fully in, leftist Pedro Castillo maintained his narrow lead, with 50.2% of the votes against 49.8% for conservative Keiko Fujimori. The difference between the candidates was 70,774 votes.

Peru’s electoral tribunal, which was expected to take a week or more to officially declare a winner, was evaluating 631 tally sheets, about half of which had been questioned by campaign representatives.

It was not clear how many votes were still up for grabs, but Fujimori said they could total at least 200,000.

Emotions had been running high even before Sunday’s runoff election over what many people viewed as a cruel choice between two populists — Castillo, an outsider who many feared would upend Peru’s free-market model largely based on mineral exports, and Fujimori, who is fighting allegations of corruption that could land her in jail alongside her father, former President Alberto Fujimori.

A few hundred die-hard Fujimori supporters took to the streets Wednesday to urge the candidate not to throw in the towel in the face of what they called a threat to Peru’s democracy.

A similar number of Castillo supporters also marched in the capital, many of them brandishing pencils — the potent symbol of the elementary school teacher’s unlikely campaign.

But with the passing of every hour, Fujimori’s challenge seemed less likely to succeed, analysts said. Her campaign had yet to substantiate claims of fraud at polling stations.

Peru’s electoral system is considered one of the most robust in Latin America, having been tested in a string of recent elections, including the 2016 vote, when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski defeated Fujimori by an even smaller margin of votes.

All the same, with the exception of fellow leftist leaders in Argentina and Bolivia, few heads of state had congratulated Castillo or recognized him as Peru’s president-elect.

Amid the uncertainty, a Peruvian prosecutor investigating Fujimori for alleged money laundering requested said Thursday that she be jailed again for failing to abide by the terms of her parole granted over a year ago.

Fujimori was released last year after spending more than a year in jail as part of a probe into millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions she allegedly received from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno reported this story in Lima and AP writer Joshua Goodman reported from Miami.

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