Unsubstantiated fraud allegations delay Peru election result, energize right

LIMA, Peru – They showed up to the rally by the thousands in red and white, the colors of their right-wing movement, exchanging conspiracy theories and ominously speaking of civil war, some holding up shields with crosses meant to exalt the European heritage.

On stage, their leader, presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, was unleashed on her flagship subject: electoral fraud.

Although election officials say his opponent, left-wing union leader Pedro Castillo, leads with more than 40,000 votes with all the ballots counted, they have yet to declare a winner a month after the polls closed. because they consider Ms. Fujimori’s request that tens of thousands of ballots be rejected.

No one came forward, even weeks later, to corroborate Ms. Fujimori’s fraud allegations; international observers have found no proof major irregularities; and both the United States and the European Union praised the electoral process.

But Ms Fujimori’s claims have not only delayed the certification of a winner, they have also radicalized elements of the Peruvian right in a way that analysts say could threaten the country’s fragile democracy, just like her. fight to push back the pandemic and the growing social discontent. .

Many in Peru have pointed out that Ms. Fujimori’s claims echoed those made by Donald J. Trump in 2020, and by Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel this year. The difference, they say, is that Peru’s democratic institutions are much weaker, leaving the country more vulnerable to growing unrest, a coup or a shift towards authoritarianism.

In Peru, those who believe the election was stolen are concentrated among the upper classes in the capital, Lima, and include former military leaders and members of influential families. Some supporters of Ms Fujimori have openly called for new elections, or even a military coup if Mr Castillo takes the oath.

“It is a danger to democracy,” said Peruvian political scientist Eduardo Dargent, calling Ms. Fujimori a member of a growing “global denial right”.

“I think in the end Keiko will leave the stage,” he continued. “But a very complicated scenario for the next government has been built.”

As the June elections approached, Peru’s two-decade-old democracy was in dire need of a boost. The country has seen four presidents and two congresses in five years, as lawmakers have found themselves embroiled in corruption scandals and settling of scores that have eroded confidence in political institutions.

Peru has also recorded the world’s highest per capita death toll from Covid-19 and has seen the virus plunge nearly 10% of its population into poverty, highlighting loopholes in economic safety nets. and social of the country.

Voters could hardly have been faced with a more difficult choice when they went to the polls on June 6 to decide between Mr Castillo, the peasant son who enjoys wide indigenous and rural support, and Ms Fujimori, a symbol dominant among the Peruvian elite and heir to a right-wing populist movement launched three decades ago by his father, former President Alberto Fujimori.

Millions of Peruvians who did not feel represented by previous governments were eager to celebrate the rise of Mr. Castillo, who has lived most of his life in an impoverished rural area.

Since the election, supporters of the two candidates have taken to the streets in competing rallies.

“We are also Peruvians. We want to participate in the political and economic decisions of the country, ”said Tomás Cama, 38, a teacher and supporter of Castillo in southern Peru, standing in front of the electoral office in recent days.

But Mr Castillo’s ties to more radical politicians – his party is led by a man who praised Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro on consolidating power – and his proposal to change the Constitution to give the state a more big role in the economy stoked fears among well-off Peruvians.

Such fears have fertile ground in Peru after decades in which a violent Communist-driven insurgency, the Shining Path, terrorized much of the country. They also allowed Ms Fujimori’s unsubstantiated fraud allegations to grow stronger: a recent poll showed that 31 percent of Peruvians thought the claims were credible.

Alleging that Mr. Castillo’s party has manipulated the official counts at polling stations across the country, Ms. Fujimori is seeking up to 200,000 votes, mostly in rural and indigenous areas where Mr. Castillo has won by a landslide.

With a new president due to be sworn in on July 28, many members of Peru’s elite are supporting Ms. Fujimori’s efforts to overturn the votes. Hundreds of retired military officers sent a letter to key military leaders urging them not to recognize “an illegitimate president”. A former Supreme Court justice filed a lawsuit calling for the entire election to be quashed.

The country’s best-known public intellectual, Nobel Prize-winning author and former presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa, has said he supports Ms Fujimori’s efforts as a victory for Mr Castillo would be a “disaster “.

“This is evident to the vast majority of Peruvians,” he told a local television station, “especially Peruvians in towns and Peruvians who are better informed”.

The story of a stolen election sometimes took on racist and classist overtones. On the eve of the vote, false information circulated on the WhatsApp messaging app that indigenous people had surrounded Lima, suggesting that they would use violence if Ms. Fujimori won.

In the crowd at a recent Fujimori rally, a group of young men wearing bulletproof vests and helmets marched with makeshift shields painted with the Burgundy Cross, a symbol of the Spanish Empire popular among those who celebrate their European heritage. A man gave what looked like a Nazi salute.

Ms Fujimori, the granddaughter of Japanese immigrants, who is part of a larger Peruvian-Japanese community, has bonded closely with the country’s elite, often of European descent, just as her father did. finally done.

A number of his supporters have spoken casually of their hope that the military will intervene.

“Just a moment, until the military can say, ‘You know what? New elections, ”said Marco Antonio Centeno, 54, a school administrator. “The alternative is totalitarianism.”

At another pro-Fujimori rally, Monica Illman, also 54, a translator who lives in an affluent neighborhood in Lima, said that until this year she had never participated in a protest. But, citing claims she had seen on Willax, a right-wing media outlet, she said she had been pushed onto the streets by “a huge and terrible fraud”.

If Mr. Castillo is declared president, she said, “there is going to be a crisis, a civil war”.

Ms Fujimori’s election statements also raised the profile of young right-wing activists like Vanya Thais, 26, who was among the opening speakers at the candidate’s rallies and used Twitter to summon some of his 40,000 followers to the campaign. street.

In an interview, Ms Thais said she had no doubts Mr Castillo would rekindle the Maoist insurgency that terrified much of Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ms Thais said right-wing politicians and the business community have not taken a tough enough stance in recent years. But those days are over, she said: “This movement is here to stay.”

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