A far-left activist advocating widespread nationalization took first place in Peru’s presidential election on Sunday and is likely to face a determined conservative candidate in a highly polarizing second round.
Pedro Castillo, a provincial teacher who rode to cast his vote on a bucking horse, led a highly fragmented field of 18 presidential candidates vying to run a country ravaged by one of the world’s worst coronavirus – death toll and widespread corruption.
With 49 percent of the vote counted, Peru’s national electoral authority said Castillo was in first place with 16 percent of the vote, more than two percentage points from his closest challenger, Hernando de Soto, a 79-year-old free market. economist.
However, a quick count by Ipsos predicted that when all votes were counted, Castillo would face Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former stronghold President Alberto Fujimori, in a second election in June. Keiko, a highly divisive figure, is under investigation into corruption allegations, which she denies.
Peru, the world’s second largest copper producer, has been gripped by chronic political instability and repeated corruption scandals in recent years that have fueled disillusionment among the political class. More than 15 percent of voters voted blank or invalid on Sunday in protest.
Castillo, a 51-year-old from the province of Cajamarca in the northern Peruvian highlands, is best known for leading a teachers’ strike in 2017. During the election campaign, his Free Peru party pledged to nationalize the country’s mining, gas, oil and communications. . and transportation networks and to pass legislation to control the media. It also wants to rewrite the Fujimori-era constitution in Peru.
“They have a socialist agenda, they talk a lot about US and OAS colonialism [Organisation of American States], ”Said Denisse Rodríguez-Olivari, a Peruvian social scientist. “It’s a very inward-looking vision that rejects any kind of foreign interference.”
Castillo does not have a Twitter account and no website of its own. He relies on grassroots support from outside of the capital’s traditional – and despised – political elites. When the polls opened on Sunday, Free Peru founder Vladimir Cerrón tweeted, “Today marks the beginning of the end of neoliberalism in Peru. Free Peru will dig its grave. “
The results lie in most opinion polls. For most of the past month, Castillo had not counted among the top six candidates and his campaign seemed to get off the ground only in the last days before the vote.
Peru is now facing a strongly polarizing second round. Fujimori has the highest rejection rate in polls from any of the leading candidates, which would increase Castillo’s chances if she is indeed confirmed as his rival.
The June run-off will give Peru its fifth president in as many years, and whoever wins will face huge obstacles. The country has flung from one political crisis to another, having had three presidents in the past six months alone. Most of Peru’s current former presidents are under investigation for corruption and the Congress is engaged in an ongoing power struggle with the executive.
Elections to Congress were also held Sunday, and partial results showed that none of the presidential candidates had nearly achieved a unicameral majority in parliament. Free Peru led with 13.8 percent, followed by Fujimori’s Popular Force group with 10.3 percent and the left-wing Popular Action party with 9.4 percent.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Peru has the highest coronavirus deaths in Latin America with 170.9 deaths per 100,000 residents. On Saturday, the day before the election, Peru recorded 384 deaths from the virus – the highest number in a 24-hour period since the start of the pandemic.
Gross domestic product shrank by 11 percent last year – the largest contraction of any major region’s economies. The government’s tough lockdown measures paralyzed growth but failed to stop the contagion.