Pedro Castillo may have won the election but his leadership is not guaranteed yet. John Crabtree looks at the challenges ahead, including a legal challenge from his rival.
The week since the second round of the Peruvian elections on 6 June has been one of nail-biting anticipation. The day after, Monday 7, it seemed that Keiko Fujimori – daughter of the now-disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori – had the edge. Then on Tuesday, as returns from rural areas came in, school teacher Pedro Castillo pushed into the lead. On Wednesday, it seemed possible that Keiko might once again nose ahead on the back of returns from voting by expatriates abroad. But it was not to be.
By Thursday evening, with all the voting by expatriates computed and only a few results from remote rural areas still pending, Castillo’s victory seemed assured. On the basis of 99 per cent of voting tallies, Castillo was ahead by 50.2 per cent to Keiko’s 49.8 per cent. He had the advantage of just over 60,000 votes out of 17 million or so who took part in the election.
At that point, once the possibility of winning with the support of voters abroad had vanished, Fujimori’s team resorted to the lawyers. It sought to impugn the validity of over 800 voting returns (actas) with the hope of snatching back victory from the jaws of defeat.
Despite having assembled an impressive battery of Lima lawyers to press Fujimori’s case, reversing the result looked like a long shot. Peru’s system of counting votes is eminently transparent and in claiming to be the victim of fraud, Fujimori would need to present some proof.
If her defeat is finally confirmed, it will be a personal setback for Fujimori herself and for fujimorismo as a political force in Peru. This will have been the third successive defeat in a row and by very small margins in each case. In 2011, Fujimori was narrowly pipped at the post by Ollanta Humala; in 2016 she was beaten by an even smaller margin than this time by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Fujimori will now face the resumption of the judicial case against her for receiving large illegal contributions in 2011 and 2016 from, amongst others, the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. The public prosecutor on the case has called for a 30-year jail sentence. Without the immunity that the presidency would offer her, Fujimori’s personal future could be a far cry from moving into the national palace.
For Castillo, the immediate future will be one in which he will try to assemble a governing team. He has recently brought into his entourage Pedro Francke, an economist from the Catholic University, and Humberto Campodónico, who under Humala was president of Petroperú. Both were supporters of Verónika Mendoza, who had been the pre-candidate for the Juntos por el Perú (Together for Peru) coalition in the first-round campaign. Other left-of-centre people are likely to join his list of potential ministers.
The immediate future will also see a retreat from the sort of radical-sounding discourse that enabled Castillo, unexpectedly, to win in the first round. In an interview with Bloomberg, Francke has discarded the chances of major extractive industries being nationalized. He has also announced a series of measures required to revamp Peru’s economy. Castillo has also confirmed that any reform of the 1993 constitution will need to conform to the rules established in the constitution regarding amendments. That means that it will require approval by the next Congress.
With only 43 seats in the next Congress (including those held by Mendoza’s Juntos por el Perú), Castillo will need to engineer deals with centrist parties and those on the centre-right in order to pass his reform agenda, including his proposals for constitutional reform. He will need to offer reassurance to middle-class voters scared by Fujimori’s claims that a Castillo victory would lead to an assault on private property.
As well as constitutional reform, his agenda is likely to include a new deal for small-scale agricultural producers in what is being described as a ‘new’ agrarian reform. His government will most likely also seek to raise the threshold of taxation (which are extremely low by Latin American standards) and the taxes payable by extractive companies.
But the immediate future – between now and the inauguration of the new government, let alone during the first few months of a Castillo presidency – is full of uncertainties. Even if she fails to reverse the results, Fujimori appears to be building a fraud narrative that can be used to justify a parliamentary (or even a military) coup later on.
Castillo may have won the election, but social and business elites are panicking at the prospect of losing their privileges and, inebriated by their own propaganda about the take-over of Peru by the Marxist left, may well opt for a dictatorial solution to their perceived predicament.
This article originally appeared in Peru Support Group’s newsletter.