© Reuters. Peru’s presidential candidate Pedro Castillo (C) walks upon his arrival in Tacabamba, Peru, June 5,2021. Picture taken June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Alessandro Cinque
By Marco Aquino and Marcelo Rochabrun
LIMA/TACABAMBA, Peru (Reuters) -Peruvian leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo on Sunday evening called his supporters out onto the streets after an exit poll following the crunch election gave a razor-thin lead to his rival, Keiko Fujimori.
“I ask our people to defend every vote,” Castillo wrote on Twitter. “I call on Peruvian people from all corners of the country to go to the streets in peace to be vigilant in the defense of democracy.”
Speaking later via megaphone from a balcony to crowds in Tacabamba, a town in his rural heartland in the northern Peruvian Andes, Castillo appealed for calm.
“We must be prudent, the people are wise,” said the 51-year-old schoolteacher who has vowed to redistribute wealth and rewrite the constitution. “What we have heard is not official.”
Ipsos Peru chief Alfredo Torres described his organisation’s findings, released as polls closed at 7pm local time (0000 GMT) as “an extremely tight technical tie”.
The poll saw Fujimori leading with 50.3% of the vote, while Castillo had 49.7%, within the margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The poll did not take into account overseas voters, who electoral officials said could be key in swinging the results.
In a short statement, Fujimori – the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori – said she was reserving judgement until the official results, and also appealed for “prudence, calm and peace from both groups, those who voted and did not vote for us.”
A fast count by Ipsos is due at 9:30 p.m. (0230 GMT on Monday), with the first official results expected to start arriving at 11:30 p.m. (0430 GMT).
By 9pm, Reuters witnesses reported a small crowd of people gathering outside the headquarters of Castillo’s Peru Libre party in the capital Lima. A crowd of around 100 people was gathered outside the party´s headquarters in Tacabamba.
Opinion polls up to the day of the election had also indicated a statistical dead heat, with Fujimori, who had earlier trailed Castillo, pulling slightly ahead at the end of campaigning.
Polls showed urban and higher-income citizens prefer Fujimori, while the rural poor largely support Castillo.
Both candidates have pledged vastly different remedies for rescuing Peru from the economic doldrums brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, which has seen it lead the world in per capital deaths.
Fujimori, the 46-year-old who has tilted at the presidency twice before, has pledged to follow the free-market model and maintain economic stability in the world’s second-largest producer.
Castillo, the son of peasant farmers, has promised to redraft the country’s constitution to strengthen the role of the state, take a larger portion of profits from mining firms and nationalize key industries.
With the race so tight, hints in the days leading up to the vote of possible electoral challenges by both camps and a deep mistrust of the political class generated by decades of corruption and instability could pose problems after the election.
Voting in the Lima district of Surco on Sunday afternoon, Fujimori noted a handful of allegations of doctored voting papers discovered in the capital and the country´s interior.
“We know that there have been incidents today. We hope that the electoral bodies will take action on the matter and sanctions will be issued accordingly,” she said. “I also expect our party officials to be on their guard.”
In Lima, voters made their way to polling stations by bike, roller skates and on foot to avoid long traffic jams that built up as the day progressed.
Among those casting his vote in Lima was Luis Pizango, who said that for him, “transparency” was key to a successful election.
“May Peru win for the good of all Peruvians,” he said.