Leftist Pedro Castillo held a slim lead on Wednesday in Peru’s polarizing presidential election as his right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori made new allegations of electoral fraud which she said involved half a million ballots.

With 99% of the vote counted in Sunday’s presidential poll, rural school teacher and union leader Castillo kept a small lead of 50.2% over Fujimori’s 49.7%.

On Wednesday evening, Ms. Fujimori asked the National Electoral Tribunal (JNE) to overturn the results of 802 polling stations, the equivalent of 200,000 votes.

She also called for 300,000 more ballots to be examined, so “half a million votes are at stake,” she told a press conference.

Ms Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori, led the tally at the start, but as Castillo slowly gained ground, she alleged “irregularities” and “signs of fraud”.

Peruvian authorities and election observers have ruled out any possibility of count fraud.

For Ms. Fujimori, the stakes are higher than mere power: she faces more than 30 years in prison if convicted of stealing money from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to fund presidential candidacies in 2011 and 2016. She has already passed 16 years. months in pre-trial detention.

Under Peruvian law, electoral victory would see charges suspended until the end of her term, but defeat could see her stand trial.

Crises and corruption

Peruvians voted for their fifth president in three years on Sunday after a series of crises and corruption scandals that saw three different leaders in power in a single week last year.

The two candidates had previously committed to respecting the result.

While Ms Fujimori spoke, Castillo thanked the donors who rallied in her support. “Let us not be provoked by those who want to see this country in chaos. Therefore, we appeal for peace and quiet,” he tweeted.

Mr Castillo said earlier that party observers saw his triumph a fait accompli, even though authorities refrained from announcing a result.

“On behalf of the Peruvian people”, Castillo thanked “the embassies and governments of Latin America and other countries” for the messages of congratulations on his “victory”.

On Wednesday evening, Castillo supporters gathered outside the vote-counting office in downtown Lima, while a pro-Fujimori crowd gathered in a large Lima park to denounce election “fraud”.

No government has officially recognized a Castillo victory, although former leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales sent a message of “congratulations on this victory”.

The victory is “also for the Latin American people who want to live in social justice! tweeted Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

Mr Castillo is ahead by 79,000 votes, but with the ballots still being counted and the votes contested by both sides, the process will likely take 10 to 12 days to be fully resolved, an official told AFP. the ONPE vote counting authority.

As in the three previous presidential elections in Peru, also very close, the end of the counting of the votes was slow due to the delays in the arrival of the ballots in Lima from the rural areas and the jungle, and the abroad – where one million of the country’s voters 25 million eligible voters live.

Fujimori garnered most of the expat votes counted, but Castillo is very popular among rural voters.

Overcoming this difference for Fujimori “will be very difficult, as there should be more votes left in Peru than abroad,” analyst Hugo Otero told AFP.

The Peruvian army pledged in a declaration to “respect the will of the people expressed at the ballot box”, even as calls circulated on social networks for the armed forces to prevent Castillo from taking power.

-The major challenges are faced with the winner

Mr. Castillo and Ms. Fujimori said they would respect democracy and form governments that will lead to economic stability.

Whoever wins will lead a nation battered by recession and the world’s highest coronavirus death rate, with more than 186,000 deaths among its 33 million people.

Two million Peruvians lost their jobs during the pandemic and nearly a third now live in poverty, official figures show.

Peruvians will also seek stability, with seven of their last 10 leaders convicted or under investigation for corruption.

Fujimori supports a neoliberal economic model of tax cuts and revival of private activity to generate jobs.

Mr. Castillo pledged to nationalize vital industries, raise taxes and increase state regulation.

Fujimori warned Peru risked becoming a new Venezuela or a new North Korea under its rival, while Castillo pointed to the story of corruption scandals by the Fujimori family.