A Peruvian presidential candidate who is likely to lose a runoff election against her socialist rival has led a protest in the capital, Lima, calling again for the annulment of votes that do not favour her.
“If the (electoral) jury analyses this, the election will be flipped, dear friends,” Keiko Fujimori told thousands of her supporters, many waving Peru’s red-and-white flag, on Saturday. “I’m the sort of person who never gives up.”
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Frontrunner Pedro Castillo, a member of the left-wing Free Peru party, is close to being named the Andean country’s next president, despite Fujimori’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud, as the count from the second round of voting earlier this month nears an end.
Castillo, an elementary school teacher who was raised in an impoverished village, was leading the count by 50,000 votes on Saturday evening, with only about 16,000 votes remaining to be counted.
But Fujimori, who risks imminent trial on corruption charges if she loses the election, has increasingly doubled down on allegations of fraud this week. The right-wing candidate says supporters of Castillo stole votes in rural areas where she got no votes and is seeking the annulment of 200,000 already-counted ballots.
The majority of those requests were submitted after a critical deadline, however, meaning they are unlikely to be considered.
International observers have said there is no evidence of fraud and that the election was clean.
Fujimori has also blamed the “international left” for pushing for a Castillo victory, citing how Argentina and Bolivia, countries led by left-wing leaders, have been quick to recognise the socialist candidate as Peru’s president-elect.
“Peru is a country that is strategically, geopolitically speaking, crucial in Latin America, and that is why the international left is trying this,” Fujimori said in a news conference with foreign media on Saturday morning.
Fujimori’s legal woes
Political commentators say with Castillo apparently poised to win, Fujimori is trying to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the election so as to salvage her political image.
“She is clinging to the fraud claim because if she does not, everything she has accomplished comes tumbling down. It is her way of avoiding failure and collapse,” said Hugo Otero, who advised former Peruvian President Alan Garcia.
Fujimori, the daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori – who is in prison for human rights abuses and corruption charges – faces legal woes of her own.
This week, prosecutors again sought to jail her on allegations of money laundering, for which they are asking for 30 years in prison.
Winning the election would halt the criminal process against Fujimori until the end of her administration.
The 46-year-old first brought allegations of fraud on Monday when initial counts from Sunday’s runoff vote showed she was likely to lose by a slim margin. However, even if Fujimori were to succeed in annulling some votes, the number of votes still in play make it unlikely she would flip the result.
The tense vote count is the culmination of a bitterly divisive election in Peru, where many low-income citizens supported Castillo while mostly wealthier ones voted for Fujimori.
On Friday, Peru’s electoral jury, which oversees elections in the country, tried to push back a deadline to allow Fujimori to submit requests to disqualify up to 200,000 votes cast in Peru’s poorest regions but said in the afternoon that it had backtracked on that plan, paving the way for a Castillo victory.
“We call for the (electoral jury) to guarantee and support a clean and just electoral process,” Castillo tweeted on Friday night. “The Peruvian people deserve it.”
Castillo’s supporters also rallied in Lima on Saturday night.
Police officers set up cordons between supporters of the two candidates to prevent clashes.