Challenges to Peru’s tightly contested presidential election are expected to resume after a new judge was sworn in on Saturday to the panel overseeing disputes, as thousands of supporters of rival candidates Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori took to the streets of Lima in protest.
Left-wing schoolteacher and union leader Castillo declared victory after securing 50.12 percent support in the June 6 run-off – about 44,000 votes more than right-wing Fujimori – according to the full vote count.
But the daughter of ex-President Alberto Fujimori has alleged voter fraud – despite international observers saying the election took place without serious irregularities – and her camp has asked the National Jury of Elections (JNE) to review thousands of ballots.
The country’s electoral process was plunged into further uncertainty this week after one of the four magistrates on the jury reviewing contested ballots quit after clashing with the other officials over requests to nullify votes.
On Saturday, the jury swore in a replacement to allow the process to restart. “Electoral justice cannot be paralysed or blocked, much less in this phase of the process,” said JNE President Jorge Salas.
The polarised presidential election came amid deep political divisions in Peru, which is struggling to cope with surging COVID-19 infections and deaths, as well as a pandemic-related economic downturn.
Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez, reporting from Lima, said “the situation is very tense” amid the duelling rallies of Fujimori and Castillo supporters in the capital. “It’s been 20 days [since the election] and still no official results yet,” she said, adding that police are trying to keep the rival groups apart.
Backers of Castillo have been urging electoral authorities to certify the results, while Fujimori’s supporters have echoed the right-wing candidate’s claims that the vote was marred by fraud and want a thorough investigation, Sanchez reported.
But she said the Fujimori camp has offered no evidence to back up the fraud allegations.
“All the international observers that have been here – from the Organization of American States, Transparency International, the European Union, the US State Department, Canada – have said that the elections have been free and fair,” Sanchez said.
Members of various right and centre-right parties, as well as retired military personnel who have backed Fujimori’s fraud claims, took part in Saturday’s rally for the right-wing candidate. Many had banners saying “no to communism”, a criticism they often aim at Castillo, and “no to fraud”.
For their part, Castillo supporters marched toward Plaza San Martín, a block from the electoral jury headquarters, with giant banners and photos of the candidate. Many wore the same wide-brimmed hats Castillo used during the campaign, while some wore outfits from the country’s Andean regions and danced.
As tensions continue to rise, an audio recording was leaked of a jailed former intelligence adviser who was a close collaborator to former President Alberto Fujimori, seeking to influence the vote in favour of Keiko Fujimori. The Navy has said it will investigate phone calls from his prison on a naval base.
“We are outraged that an inmate appears on the scene at such a critical moment in our democratic life,” Prime Minister Violeta Bermudez told reporters on Saturday.
Peru’s new president is due to be sworn in on July 28, the country’s independence day.