Peruvian Leftist Castillo Inches Ahead in Tight Presidential Vote

For the first time in six weeks, Peru has a clear choice for president. Six weeks after the hotly disputed second round of presidential elections in Peru on June 6, Pedro Castillo, a rural school teacher and farmer, was officially declared the winner last night by the National Elections Boards (JNE).

With 50.12% of the vote, the socially conservative lefty Castillo defeated the conservative Keiko Fujimori, who received 49.87.

Peruvian Leftist Castillo Inches Ahead in Tight Presidential Vote

Castillo was Pronounced the Victor, Although Fujimori Continued to Allege Fraud.

The four members of the JNE were present at the proclamation ceremony, which was broadcast live on Zoom, and underwent considerable scrutiny when Fujimori and her allies alleged the elections were illegitimate.

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There was also the leader of the OAS election observation team there, whose certification of the elections helped to discredit Fujimori’s fabricated story of widespread fraud.

Castillo himself, sporting his now-familiar wide-brimmed straw hat, appeared in a corner of the Zoom screen. On July 28, 2021, the bicentennial of Peruvian independence from Spanish rule, the newly elected president will enter office.

After the announcement, President-elect Castillo addressed thousands of supporters from the balcony of the Peru Libre party offices in Lima. To achieve “a more inclusive, just, free Peru, without prejudice,” he called on all Peruvians to work with him.

He pledged to work for “real economic development” alongside policies that kept the economy stable. In reference to his proposal to call for a constituent assembly to draught a new constitution, he said he will uphold the Constitution under which he was elected “unless the people decide differently.”

In reference to Fujimori’s attempt to invalidate the ballots cast by Peru’s rural and Indigenous communities and change the election results, Castillo expressed gratitude to those who fought to protect their votes. In addition, he asked Keiko Fujimori to join forces with him in an effort to bring the country together.

We see little chance of that occurring. Fujimori held a news conference after discovering that the JNE was going to formally proclaim Castillo president, during which she said she accepted the election results “as compelled by the law.”

In the same breath, however, she declared Castillo’s president to be illegitimate and said that the “truth” concerning election fraud would be disclosed. And she vowed to keep spearheading “the epic challenge of stopping communism in Peru.”

Fujimori said nothing as news spread that she had lost and that prosecutors were seeking a trial date for her on allegations of money laundering, criminal organisation leadership, and obstruction of justice. A possible 31-year sentence is being considered for her. Mark Vito, her American-born spouse, is also a suspect in a corruption case.

Debunking Fujimori’s election-time fabrications

Social tensions and uncertainty during the past six weeks have left an indelible stamp on Peruvian culture. In spite of the setting being made even more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic, Peru’s electoral institutions succeeded brilliantly in holding free and fair elections, and have garnered considerable praise for transparency, efficiency, and integrity of the process.

Despite this fact, Fujimori and her followers continue to claim that the election was fraudulent, leading to a contentious transfer of power that threatens Peru’s fledgling democracy.

Castillo narrowly defeated third-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori by just 44,000 votes, according to the final tally released by the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) on June 15, nearly ten days after the second-round election. Fujimori, supported by the Lima establishment and the establishment media, alleged fraud before the votes were counted.

She sent in a crack legal team to contest thousands of votes, mostly from rural areas where Castillo had a decisive victory. This is so even if the election was deemed to be fair by the Organization of American States (OAS) and other national and international observers.

In the campaign, Keiko and her friends resurrected old talking points in which they predicted doom for Peru under a Castillo presidency. They proposed a variety of possible outcomes. One plan suggested that the president of Congress be appointed interim president if he could stop Castillo from pronouncing himself president on July 28.

Alternately, it may have been demanded that the election results be nullified and new elections be called. Conservative members of Congress tried, and failed, to appoint new magistrates to the Constitutional Tribunal who they believed would be more receptive to such a proposal if it were brought before them.

Others, notably a group of retired military officers from which two were elected to Congress, called for a military coup.

After several weeks of investigation, the JNE found almost all of Fujimori’s allegations of fraud to be without merit, allowing Pedro Castillo to be officially declared president. On July 16, Fujimori’s legal team responded by submitting yet another set of appeals, all of which were without merit and served only to further postpone the certification of the election results.

After announcing resolutions to all appeals on Monday, July 19, the JNE certified the results that same night. Although this successful conclusion to the JNE’s lengthy process is great news for Peru’s democracy, it leaves Castillo with only a week to organise his transition team and appoint cabinet members.

Because Keiko Fujimori refused to accept a third setback on her path to the presidency, the transition period was cut short in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Confidence in Peru’s election institutions and the legitimacy of the Castillo presidency has been eroded by the lengthy process induced by Fujimori’s huge lie of electoral fraud.

Fujimori’s supporters have been “doxing” elections officials, participating in street rallies, and violently attacking journalists and two government ministers as a result of the narrative of fraud, which has been filled with racist invectives and plenty of redbaiting.

As she did between 2016 and 2021, when her obstructionist tactics led to the removal of two presidents and the naming of one president who resigned after mass protests against him, leading to the naming of the current president, Francisco Sagasti, Keiko has already made clear that she will do everything in her power to remove Castillo from office, or at least make his government untenable.

Keiko Fujimori’s “Great Deception” and its Historical Context.

Keiko Fujimori’s charges of fraud have been compared by many to efforts to change the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential elections in November. Donald Trump has depended on an ecosystem of conservative news sites eager to perpetuate the “big lie” of elections fraud, refused to acknowledge his defeat to Joe Biden, and attempted to compel elections authorities to “find” votes to alter the outcome.

It’s hard to deny the parallels. Keiko Fujimori, like Donald Trump and his supporters, has spread the myth that the election was stolen through electoral fraud. Like in the case of Trump, Keiko’s “great lie” runs the risk of severely eroding public confidence in the fairness of elections and democratic institutions even if it fails to achieve its immediate purpose of subverting the vote’s outcome.

In fact, it is impossible to sell a major untruth without also implying that the other side is treacherous and a threat to the country’s very survival. By creating an environment of political unrest and intolerance, extremist policies become easier to defend.

Yet, Keiko Fujimori and her followers aren’t just ripping off Trump’s strategy. Keiko is using the knowledge and skills she picked up from her father, the late dictator of Peru, Alberto Fujimori.

In 2000, Alberto Fujimori earned a third term as president by huge fraud, capping up a decade in which he demolished democratic institutions and built a civil-military dictatorship that ruled through clientelism, corruption, and intimidation.

OAS withdrew its election observers and declared the elections illegitimate due to widespread manipulation of electoral institutions to ensure Fujimori’s victory. Fujimori was inaugurated on July 28, 2000, despite widespread protests. His rule fell apart a few months later, as videos were released showing massive corruption.

Fujimori resigned by fax before he was forced out of the nation. His resignation was rejected by Congress, and he was ultimately removed from office on the basis of “moral incompetence.”

After her father’s departure as president, Keiko Fujimori vanished from politics. Since 1994, she had occupied the role of First Lady. After divorcing Susana Higuchi, her father appointed her to the role, even though she was just 19 at the time.

Higuchi claims Fujimori mistreated her on multiple occasions before kicking her out of the house when she openly condemned government corruption, especially among members of the Fujimori family.

Fixing up Fujimori

Keiko first became involved in politics again after her father’s detention in Chile in 2005, which prevented him from running for president again in 2006. In 2006, she won the most votes of any candidate for Congress, showing that the Fujimori name was still well-known and respected by many.

Her dad was arrested the year after she was born and sent to Peru, where he was tried for human rights abuses, corruption, and abuse of power and given a 25-year prison term. This verdict will go down in history as a watershed moment for the human rights movement around the world.

Keiko, however, refused to accept the verdict as final, insisting instead that her father’s adversaries had staged the trial in order to frame him and reiterating her resolve to liberate him. One of the reasons she ran for president herself in 2011 was because she couldn’t get then-President Alan Garcia to pardon her father. Her primary objective was to gain custody of her father back from the prison.

Keiko reconstructed Fujimorismo by portraying her father as a victim and reiterating his role as Peru’s saviour. Despite this, she has tried and failed for the presidency three times. She conceded loss after Ollanta Humala, a national populist and former army officer, defeated her in 2011 by a margin of 3 percentage points.

She conceded the 2016 election to PPK, the centrist banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, with a sour taste in her mouth but never accepted her loss. In fact, she repeatedly told reporters during the 2021 campaign that her worst mistake in 2016 was not asking for a recount.

Fujimori lost the 2016 presidential election to PPK by a razor-thin margin, but her party, Fuerza Popular, nevertheless won 56% of the seats in congress. There was a supermajority coalition in Congress that could be established with this much support.

With this authority, she brought PPK to his knees by publicly reprimanding cabinet members, threatening to remove him from office, and rendering the country unruly.

Tense Political Climate Preceding 2021 Election

When audio recordings surfaced in 2018 revealing that PPK’s “humanitarian pardon” of Alberto Fujimori on Christmas Eve 2017 was part of a self-serving political deal with Fujimori’s son, Kenji, then a member of Congress, the vote in Congress to remove PPK again based on allegations of Odebrecht-related corruption was cancelled.

PPK was arrested for corruption and subsequently resigned in disgrace.

Vice President Martn Vizcarra was sworn in as president after PPK’s departure. Despite the opposition of the Fujimori-led Congress, he exercised his constitutional authority to call for early elections for the House of Representatives in January 2020.

Even though Fuerza Popular is no longer in power, the new Congress is dominated by conservative legislators, with over half of them currently under investigation for corruption.

They fought against Vizcarra’s reform plans, particularly his plan to end congressional immunity, and succeeded in voting him out of office in 2020. Congress President Manuel Merino, who helped orchestrate Vizacarra’s ouster, has been given interim presidential powers.

But many people saw it as an attempt by dishonest lawmakers to preserve their power and privilege. Protests against Merino erupted on a massive scale. The deaths of two students as a result of police aggression sparked even larger protests, which ultimately led to Merino’s hasty resignation.

The Purple Party’s moderate leader Francisco Sagasti has been appointed interim president. The bulk of his work will include organising 2021’s elections and making sure they go off without a hitch.

At the 2021 presidential elections, Keiko Fujimori received the fewest votes of any of the 18 candidates. Name recognition helped her again in this sparse competition, and she and Pedro Castillo advanced to the next round.

More over half of people have declared they will never vote for Keiko, as shown in numerous polls. Castillo’s popularity surged in the final month before the first round of voting, surprising many who had written him off because of his reputation as a farmer and teacher from rural Peru.

The charisma and attractiveness of this man, however, exceeded all expectations. He received eighty percent or more of the vote in some areas, notably in rural Peru.

Keiko Fujimori, unwilling to accept a third loss as opposition leader, returned to her previous strategy of “scorched earth.” She insists on her story of fraud despite a lack of evidence.

Her accusations of fraud have been blindly reproduced by the media. Her father, Vladimiro Montesinos, was a brilliant manipulator, and he even interfered on her behalf from prison, giving her advice on how to debate Castillo and how to change the election results.

Even some of her closest allies, like the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who was once her toughest opponent, are now not only allowing this story to flourish, but have explicitly supported a coup.

The Nobel laureate in literature remarked at a seminar in Madrid on July 9: “Anything done to thwart this operation [of fraud], which is murky, seditious, which defies the rule of law and democracy itself, is completely legitimate.”

Any kind of military takeover seems highly unlikely. On the other hand, it’s feasible that the various right-wing parties in Congress would band together to utilise the “moral incompetence” section of the Constitution to remove Castillo from office. This would take only 87 of 130 votes in the House and Senate.

Keiko Fujimori’s persistent attacks on electoral institutions were supported by the Lima establishment and the mainstream media, and they permanently marked Peru. Despite never having been elected president, Keiko Fujimori is the most emblematic of modern Peruvian politics.

She insists that she is a champion of democracy in Peru, but her actions over the previous five years, and especially during the past six weeks, imply otherwise. She fundamentally rejects the central concept of democracy: adhering to the rules of the game, win or lose, by continuing to believe the “great lie” of election fraud and refusing to recognise the legitimacy of Castillo’s president.

Although she lost the election, she did significant damage to Castillo’s presidency. Even though the charges against her are founded on substantial evidence and predate President Castillo’s ascension to power, when she is finally brought to trial, she will undoubtedly claim that they are part of a vengeance plot by her political opponents.

Dangerous Seas Ahead

This was a first for Peru: Pedro Castillo, the son of uneducated farmers, became the country’s president. He’s held up very well despite the right’s constant red baiting, racial insults, and attempts to steal the election.

On July 28th, he will face the actual test of his talents to steer in rough seas. He’ll take over as president of a country that has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and is deeply split along political lines.

As he takes power, Fujimori and her supporters cast doubt on his legitimacy. With only 37 out of 130 legislative seats, Castillo lacks a majority in Congress and will confront a hostile caucus of rightist parties who will try to frustrate his policy programme and maybe try to oust him as president under the Constitution of 1993’s nebulous “moral incapacity” article.

Castillo’s support for Vladimir Cerrón, president of Peru Libre and former governor of Junn department, who is currently serving a four-year suspended prison term for corruption and faces a number of other accusations of wrongdoing, has raised many eyebrows.

To attract moderate voters and form a coalition strong enough to pass legislation, Castillo has sought to establish his own identity and position in the political arena.

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During the campaign, he formed a strong relationship with Juntos por el Peru moderate left party candidate and two-time presidential candidate Verónika Mendoza, and they may be able to form a coalition government with other centrist parties like Somos Peru and the Purple Party.

However, questions persist regarding where Peru Libre stands on a range of important human rights issues, including those pertaining to the rights of the LGBT+ community, women, and the death sentence.

There is limited information available at this time concerning Castillo’s cabinet picks, policy initiatives, or plans to address the public health catastrophe posed by the ongoing outbreak.

We should expect the Lima establishment to maintain its antagonistic position toward his government, increasing the tensions that could lead Peru to collapse. Keiko Fujimori’s spurious allegations of fraud during the election have ended, but dangerous times remain ahead for Peru.