Peru braces for ‘most fragmented election in history’

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Peru will vote for a new president on Sunday in a wide-open election framed by a deadly surge in coronavirus cases, and under the long shadow of a constitutional crisis last year that saw the Andean nation go through three leaders in a week.

As candidates closed their campaigns, pollsters say half a dozen of them are still in the running for a top two spot, which would see them move into a second round run-off vote in June. Predicting which two will make it, they say, is impossible.

“These are the most fragmented elections in history, we have never reached the eve of the election with so many candidates in with a chance,” Alfredo Torres, head of local pollster Ipsos Peru told reporters on Thursday.

Presidential candidates (L-R) Alberto Beingolea, Marco Arana, Keiko Fujimori, Veronika Mendoza, Cesar Acuna and George Forsyth greet during the first day of the three debates organized by the National Elections Jury in Lima, Peru, 29 March 2021. EPA-EFE/Sebastian Castaneda / POOL

The uncertainty over the elections comes as Peru battles the peak of COVID-19 cases with hospitals overwhelmed and after the world’s no. 2 copper producer suffered its worst economic drop in three decades last year. The twists and turns have buffeted markets and Peru’s sol currency.

In the final pre-election polls, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the imprisoned ex-president Alberto Fujimori, has climbed to the top of the pack, but with a slim lead. A radical leftist professor Pedro Castillo has also shot up from nowhere.

No candidate has more than 13% of the voting intention and ‘no vote’ still remains the most popular single choice.

Close behind are Yonhy Lescano, the recent poll leader whose populist style has lured voters, Opus Dei member Rafael López Aliaga, liberal economist Hernando de Soto and leftist Verónika Mendoza. Ex-soccer star George Forsyth also remains in the mix.

Castillo, 51, who has surprised pollsters to suddenly arrive near the top of the pack, closed his campaign on Thursday night calling for a change to Peru’s Magna Carta, something the country’s youth had called for amid angry protests last year.

“The time has come to recover the homeland through a new political Constitution,” he said.

Pollsters said that Peru’s 25 million registered voters were disenchanted with all candidates, and that more radical positions were gaining amid wider uncertainties.

“We are facing a voter who is very unhappy with all the options they have to choose from,” said Urpi Torrado, the executive president of pollster Datum International.

Fujimori, 45, closed her campaign with a caravan of supporters holding banners with the letter “K” and orange flags of her Popular Force party. Her father, a powerful political figure in the country, is credited for defeating the leftist Shining Path rebel group and bolstering the economy, but later fled Peru amid allegations of corruption and human rights abuses at the end of his 10-year administration.

There are 18 presidential candidates and Peruvians will also elect 130 members of the unicameral Congress. Voting is mandatory with a fine of up to $25.

The polls open at 0700 (1200 GMT) on Sunday and close 12 hours later, when pollster Ipsos Peru will give an exit poll. The electoral office has announced that it will offer its first partial result at 1130 pm local time (0430 GMT on Monday).

Main Photo: Peruvian presidential candidate for far-left Peru Libre party, Pedro Castillo, rides a horse as he attends a campaign event in Lima, Peru. EPA-EFE/Aldair Mejia