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Peru: Leftist candidate leads presidential race

April 11, 2021

Peruvians have been urged by the government to come out and vote for the country's next president despite rising COVID-19 deaths.

Voters wearing masks queuing up outside a polling station in Lima
Some 25 million people have been called on to elect Peru's new presidentImage: Martin Mejia/AP Photo/picture alliance

Leftist candidate Pedro Castillo will face conservative Keiko Fujimori in a June run-off to become president of Peru, a fast count by pollster Ipsos indicated on Monday, with more than two thirds of the votes cast in the election.

According to the poll, Castillo, a 51-year-old union leader and primary school teacher, had secured 18.6% of the votes, while 14.5% went to Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.

Hernando de Soto, the liberal economist whom an exit poll had earlier suggested was tied in second place with Fujimori, dropped to fourth position in the fast count, with 10.8% of the ballot. Far-right candidate Rafael Lopez Aliaga rose to third place with 11.9%, according to the latest tally.

Shadow of COVID-19

The poll comes as voters in Peru were electing their fifth president in three years, as polling stations opened across the country. About 25 million people were called on to vote in the Andean state, where voting is mandatory.

Elderly people were asked to arrive early to the polling stations and avoid crowds, as Peru faces one the deadliest weeks of the coronavirus pandemic thus far.

In the past week, there has been an average of 279 COVID-19 deaths every day. On Saturday alone, 384 fatalities were reported.

An electoral official taking the temperature of a voter in traditional dress in Ollantaytambo
The week running up to the election was one of the deadliest so far during the pandemicImage: Sharon Castellanos/AP Photo/picture alliance

None of the 18 candidates standing for election enjoyed support from more than 10% of the electorate, according to election surveys. "No vote" was the most popular choice.

Interim leader says voting is safe

Some of the polling stations were unable to open on time due to the randomly picked supervisors not showing up.

Peru's economy on the brink

The interim president, Francisco Sagasti, called on Peruvians to vote during the pandemic, saying there were "vulnerable people" waiting in lines. 

"All possible measures have been taken to avoid contagions," he said. "There should be no fear of complying with your civic duty," he said.

At the same time, some medical professionals criticized the decision to hold the election and allow election rallies. 

"Unfortunately, political decisions have taken precedence over [health] measures," the head of the Peru Medical College doctors association, Augusto Tarazona, told the AFP news agency.

Neighboring Ecuador was also holding a runoff vote on Sunday to determine the next president.

Ecuador presidential election

Chile had planned a vote for Sunday, but delayed it because of the pandemic.

Peru's political future remains unclear

The next Peruvian president will likely be decided in a second-round vote in June. Reuters reported that the slight favorites to head to the second round were de Soto and radical leftist professor Castillo.

Fujimori, who is the daughter of the imprisoned former conservative president, Alberto Fujimori, is also a top candidate.

Six of the 18 candidates had already reportedly contracted COVID-19, with one having to cut campaigning short because of it.

Peruvians protest new president

Nearly all of Peru's presidents in the last three decades have either been impeached or involved in corruption scandals.

The winning candidate in this election will become Peru's fifth president in three years. Three presidents came and went within a matter of days last November as widespread protests left two people dead and many more injured.

This is an updated version of an earlier article.

jsi, ab,wd/sri (AFP, Reuters)