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Peruvians vote for president amid coronaviru­s surge

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Peru voted on Sunday, in its deadliest week of the Covid-19 pandemic to date, in presidenti­al elections seemingly headed for a run-off as no single candidate was able to fire up a crisis-weary nation.

Some 25 million people were eligible to vote -- which is mandatory – the day after Peru reported its highest-ever daily toll in the Covid-19 pandemic.

An early exit poll showed farleft labour unionist Pedro Castillo in the lead with 16.1 per cent, far short of the 51 per cent required to avoid a runoff scheduled for June 6.

The same inconclusi­ve result had rightist economist Hernando de Soto and corruption-accused populist Keiko Fujimori sharing the second place with 11.9 per cent each.

Polling queues vied with lines of people seeking oxygen supplies for infected loved ones.

Many electors said they turned out, despite fear of infection, merely to avoid the fine of 88 sol (about US$24) for not voting.

"We are afraid of getting infected, because this pandemic is terrible, but at the same time I have to vote," Nancy Retamozo, 58, said while queuing at a school in a Lima suburb.

Peruvian authoritie­s on Saturday reported 384 fatalities in 24 hours – the third daily record in a week -- bringing the overall toll to more than 54,600 in the country of 33 million people.

More than 11,200 new daily cases were reported, adding to another 1.6 million to date.

On Sunday evening, the authoritie­s announced the latest daily death toll of 234.

Peru's government had decided to press ahead with elections as South America battles a surge in infections fueled by new virus variants believed to be more contagious.

Six of Peru's 18 presidenti­al candidates have contracted the virus. Thousands of polling stations opened their doors at 7:00 am (1200 GMT), and closed at 7:00 pm -- four hours longer than usual as authoritie­s sought to prevent voters amassing.

As some Peruvians lined up to vote, others queued for oxygen refills for loved ones battling coronaviru­s infection.

"It is unfair, because instead of being there in the voting queue, we had to get up at daybreak to fetch oxygen," Micaela Lizama, 38, said in Lima.

Mario Tinoco, 52, said he was willing to risk the fine for not voting because "I have to get oxygen, that is the main thing for me."

Despite the pandemic outlook, election campaignin­g had continued until Thursday, with candidates drawing hundreds of followers to often boisterous rallies.

'Most fragmented' ever

Ahead of the vote, an Ipsos opinion poll showed a mere four percentage-point difference between the first- and seventh-placed candidates.

Almost a third of voters were undecided in what Ipsos Peru chief Alfredo Torres said was the country's "most fragmented election" ever.

"I don't want to vote, because there is no suitable candidate, but I am more afraid of radicals entering the government," one voter, 51-year-old Johnny Samaniego said in Lima.

Also in the running were center-right Yonhy Lescano, leftist anthropolo­gist Veronika Mendoza, former football goalkeeper George Forsyth – one of those infected – and ultra-conservati­ve celibate Catholic Rafael Lopez Aliaga.

Several candidates said on Sunday they would respect the voters' choice, and after the exit poll, 51-year-old Castillo urged "calm" from his supporters in awaiting the final result.

The uncertain outcome has the markets worried, and the Peruvian sol plunged to a record low 3.8 to the US dollar last month, adding to the future president's full in-tray.

Peru has been in recession since the second quarter of last year after coronaviru­s lockdown shuttered businesses and crippled the all-important tourism sector.

Its economy contracted more than 11 percent in 2020, four million people lost their jobs and another five million dropped into poverty.

The country has also been convulsed by political upheaval driven by claims of corruption at the highest echelons.

This will be Peru's fifth president in three years, after three fell within days of each other in November 2020 amid protests that left two people dead and hundreds injured.

The first results should be known around 11:30 pm on Sunday (0430 GMT Monday).

 ?? XINHUA/VNA Photo ?? A woman votes at a polling station in Lima, Peru, on Sunday. Elections began at 7:00 a.m. local time on Sunday in Peru, where more than 25 million people are eligible to vote. Voters will cast their vote for the president, two vice presidents, 130 congressme­n, and five representa­tives to the Andean Parliament.
XINHUA/VNA Photo A woman votes at a polling station in Lima, Peru, on Sunday. Elections began at 7:00 a.m. local time on Sunday in Peru, where more than 25 million people are eligible to vote. Voters will cast their vote for the president, two vice presidents, 130 congressme­n, and five representa­tives to the Andean Parliament.

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