The Irish Times

Far-left activist Castillo leads in Peru presidenti­al election upset

- GIDEON LONG in Quito and MICHAEL STOTT in London

A far-left activist who advocates widespread nationalis­ation snatched first place in Peru’s presidenti­al election on Sunday and is likely to face a staunchly conservati­ve candidate in a highly polarising second round.

Pedro Castillo, a teacher from the provinces who rode to cast his vote on a bucking horse, was leading a highly fragmented field of 18 presidenti­al candidates vying to govern a country wracked by one of the world’s worst coronaviru­s death tolls and widespread corruption.

With 49 per cent of ballots counted, Peru’s national electoral authority said Mr Castillo lay in first place with 16 per cent of the vote, more than two percentage points clear of his nearest challenger, Hernando de Soto, a 79-year-old free-market economist.

A fast count by Ipsos predicted, however, that when all votes were counted, Mr Castillo would face Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, in a run-off election in June. A highly divisive figure, Ms Fujimori has been under investigat­ion for corruption charges, which she denies.

Peru, the world’s second

largest copper producer, has been gripped by chronic political instabilit­y in recent years and repeated corruption scandals which have fuelled disillusio­nment with the political class. More than 15 per cent of voters cast blank or spoilt ballots on Sunday in protest.

A 51-year-old from the province of Cajamarca in the northern Peruvian highlands, Mr Castillo is best known for leading a teachers’ strike in 2017. During the election campaign his Free Peru party promised to nationalis­e the country’s mining, gas, oil, communicat­ions and transport networks and to pass legislatio­n to control the media. It also wants to rewrite Peru’s Fujimori-era constituti­on.

Mr Castillo has no Twitter account of his own and no website. He relies on grassroots support from outside the traditiona­l – and despised – political elites of the capital.

As polls opened on Sunday, Free Peru’s founder Vladimir Cerrón tweeted: “Today marks the beginning of the end for neoliberal­ism in Peru. Free Peru will dig its grave.”

The results gave the lie to most opinion polls. For much of the past month, Mr Castillo had not figured in the top six candidates and his campaign only appeared to take off in the final days before the vote.

The June run-off will give Peru its fifth president in as many years and whoever wins will face huge obstacles.

The country has lurched from one political crisis to another and has had three presidents in the past six months alone.

Elections were also held on Sunday for congress and partial results suggested that none of the presidenti­al candidates was close to commanding a majority in the single-chamber parliament.

Free Peru was in the lead with 13.8 per cent, followed by Ms Fujimori’s Popular Force grouping with 10.3 per cent and the left-wing Popular Action party with 9.4 per cent. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

 ??  ?? ■ Pedro Castillo: relies on grassroots support from outside the political elites
■ Pedro Castillo: relies on grassroots support from outside the political elites

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