Yet another Peruvian cliffhanger

The voters may have had, as I said in my preview, an unenviable choice in Peru, but at least the opinion pollsters had something to smile about. They tipped a very close race, with a slight edge to leftist candidate Pedro Castillo, and that’s exactly how it turned out.

I don’t like her politics, but you can’t help feeling sorry for the right-wing candidate, Keiko Fujimori. This was her third attempt at the presidency; in 2011 she lost with 48.6% against Ollanta Humala, and in 2016 she was beaten in a nailbiter by Pedro Kuczynski, finishing on 49.9% and losing by just 41,000 votes. Now she’s done it again: with 99.1% counted she has 49.8%, about 71,500 votes behind Castillo. (See official results here.)

Fujimori led for most of the count; her strength is in the coast and the big cities, whose votes tend to come in first. Castillo took the lead on Monday afternoon, as votes from the interior came to predominate. As the last few votes have been tallied, however, his lead has slipped back: yesterday it briefly went above 100,000, but votes from overseas and from some of the disputed returns (of which there are still a few hundred to resolve) have favored Fujimori.

So the final margin will be not far off the 2016 figure. It’s not unusual for candidates to keep losing, but I can’t think of one who’s managed three successive defeats by such narrow margins.

Whether the closeness of his victory will do anything to moderate Castillo’s ambitions in office remains to be seen. A more serious constraint is that he lacks anything like a legislative majority. Although his party, Free Peru, has the largest single congressional delegation with 37 of the 130 seats, seven parties ranging from centre to right have 85 seats between them. They are likely to resist any attempt to turn Peru into a new Cuba or Venezuela.

In the last term, conflict between president and congress led to chaos, and the chance of something similar happening this time seems unpleasantly high.

Meanwhile in Mexico, a much larger country, counting from Sunday’s House of Representatives election is still in progress. About 80% of returns are in; you can follow the official results here. We’ll have a look at it next week when results are final, but it appears that president Andrés Manuel López Obrador will again have a legislative majority, although significantly reduced.

UPDATE 3.21am Friday, Peru time: The official count now shows 100% processed and 99.56% counted; the difference is the 380 returns sent to the electoral tribunal for adjudication. Castillo has 50.17%, leading Fujimori by just over 60,000 votes.

The vast majority of the disputed returns are either from overseas or from Lima, the capital; both of those have strongly favored Fujimori, so she will narrow the gap further. But unless something very strange is happening, there just aren’t enough votes there for her to overtake him.

FURTHER UPDATE 11.40pm Monday, Peru time: Almost done. With just 13 returns still unresolved, Fujimori has narrowed the gap to a little under 45,000 votes, or 50.13% to 49.87%. That’s uncannily similar to her losing margin five years ago, but according to the BBC monitors from the OAS found no serious irregularities.

FINAL UPDATE 11pm Wednesday, Peru time: And that’s it: with everything counted, Castillo wins by 44,058 votes, with 50.12%. In 2016 it was 41,057. Extraordinary! The BBC reports that the result will not be officially declared until Fujimori’s various legal challenges have been dealt with, which could take weeks, but no evidence of malfeasance has appeared.


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