Peruvian socialist Pedro Castillo holds razor-thin lead in national election

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Peruvian socialist Pedro Castillo holds razor-thin lead in national election

Pedro Castillo speaks to supporters from the headquarters of the Free Peru party in Lima, Peru on 8 June 2021. Alessandro Cinque brings for ReUTERS Alessandro REUTERS.

The Peruvian socialist Pedro Castillo held a razor-thin lead in the deeply divided vote on Wednesday in the national presidential election for almost all votes, although with a gap of just 70,000, contested ballots could still be decisive.

Castillo, son of right-wing farmers who has rattled the political elite of the Andean nation and gained huge support from the rural poor, had 50.2% with 99.8% of votes processed, just 0.4% percentage point ahead of Indian rival Keiko Fujimori.

The number of castes is however, preliminary as around 300,000 votes have been scored and will need to be further scrutinised by an electoral jury, a process that could take several days to complete and could tip the balance.

Fujimori closed the gap temporarily overnight as almost all overseas votes went in favor of the conservative candidate, though not enough to press into Castillo's lead as she wanted, and left disputed votes as her last possible reprieve.

It's unlikely that Fujimori will overtake Castillo at this point, said David Sulmont, a sociology professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and former head of the voting unit.

It is one of the country's tightest elections, he added. The margin could keep varying, but I think Castillo will be the winner.

A win for Castillo, a teacher who was the surprise winner in the first-round vote in April, would mark a major advance for Latin America's left amid rising discontent over poverty and inequality that has been sharpened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday evening, Castillo came close to winning the victory. We already have the official tally of the party, where the people have won this fight, he told supporters, referring to an unofficial vote count led by his party, Free Peru.

Fujimori held out hope of claiming a victory and has raised debunked fraud allegations, saying supporters of Castillo tried to steal votes from the media. His party has denied the claims.

Experts and international electoral observers have said that Peru's election was conducted cleanly.

Still, Fujimori's allegations could trigger days of confusion and tension, amid a polarized election cycle that divided Peruvians, with lower-income citizens supporting the right-wing candidate and liberal-income residents supporting Castillo.

On Tuesday, hundreds of voters from both sides demonstrated in front of the Peruian Elections Office against the perception of irregularities in the vote counting process. Fujimori is on her third attempt to become President after being runner-up in the last two cycles. In 2016 she lost by a margin of 0.24 of a percentage point.

Castillo has spooked markets with proposals to redistribute mining wealth, redraft the constitution and boost taxes on mining firms, a key source of income for the Andean country, though in recent days he has tried to moderate his tone.

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