And now Peru puts on a cliffhanger

Peru went back to the polls overnight in the second round of its presidential election. In the first round, held eight weeks ago, Keiko Fujimori led comfortably with 39.9% against Pedro Kuczynski on 21.1%.
Fujimori’s party also won a majority in Congress.

Both candidates, broadly speaking, are from the right, so Latin America’s swing away from the left will continue whatever happens. But whereas Kuczynski is a liberal technocrat, Fujimori is an authoritarian populist whose father is in prison for corruption and multiple human rights offences.

So it’s not surprising that the left has rallied behind Kuczynski and that he has narrowed Fujimori’s lead. According to the BBC, “last-minute opinion polls” had them running neck-and-neck.

We know from Austria two weeks ago that right-wing populists can be overhauled in the runoff, so everyone is now waiting to see if Peru can pull off the same trick. Exit polls have it too close to call.

You can follow the official results here; with about 36% counted, Kuczynski had a wafer-thin lead, 50.6% to 49.2%, or about 76,000 votes. Although it’s only 10pm in Peru, those totals haven’t been updated for more than an hour, so I don’t know how long it might be before anything else comes in. I’ll post updates if there’s some further news.

Meanwhile in nearby Venezuela it’s being demonstrated that threats to democracy don’t only come from the right. With the country’s economy sinking further into ruin, the opposition has collected 1.85 million signatures to start the process of removing leftist president Nicolas Maduro, but the National Electoral Council is yet to rule on their validity.

Since at this stage they only needed 197,000 signatures, this isn’t something there should be much doubt about. Members of Maduro’s party have claimed that “at least 10,000” of the signatures are fraudulent, but since that represents a failure rate of not much over half of one per cent, it doesn’t do much to dent the opposition’s credibility.

There’s not much doubt that if even a semi-fair referendum is eventually held, Maduro will lose heavily. Back in December the centre-right opposition won almost 60% of the vote in legislative elections, and things have only gotten worse for the administration since then.

So it’s easy to understand Maduro’s determination to use every trick in the book to delay the process. But that doesn’t make it justified.

UPDATE 11.15pm, Peru time

Now with 51% counted, Kuczynski is holding onto his lead, 50.6% to 49.4%. I can’t find anything on the Electoral Office’s website to say where those votes have come from, and without that it’s impossible to say how robust that lead might be. Still, the fact that it’s barely changed with about 2.7 million votes added has to be a good sign for Kuczynski.

FURTHER UPDATE 1.40am, Peru time

I think Kuczynski has got this. With 78.2% counted, he’s extended his lead slightly: now on 50.8%, about 231,000 votes ahead of Fujimori. I don’t think she’ll be able to reel that in. Reuters quotes Kuczynski telling his supporters “We take this preliminary verdict with optimism, but with modesty.”

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