Lima, Peru – More than most of the elected presidents, Pedro Castillo, apparently Peru’s new leader, will need to put his transition team to work as soon as possible.
On the one hand, a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic seems increasingly likely in the Andean nation, which already has by far the highest per capita COVID-19 mortality rate. The highly contagious Delta variant has just been discovered in Arequipa, with authorities struggling to cut Peru’s second city from the rest of the country.
On the other hand, Castillo, 51, a radical leftist who no one – apparently including the candidate himself – expected to win, campaigned chaotically, often contradicting and delaying for weeks revealing whether he even had a political team. , stating that he did not want his expert advisers to be “stigmatized” by the media.
Even many of those who voted for the country’s schoolteacher and union leader in the poor region of Cajamarca, in the northern Andes, wonder if he is ready for the historic challenges of leading Peru out. the two twins of public health and economic crisis once sworn. on July 28, the 200th anniversary of Peruvian independence.
However, no transition can begin until a series of unprecedented legal challenges from her opponent, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the imprisoned despot of the 1990s Alberto Fujimori, are resolved. She makes claims without proof of electoral “fraud”.
They come despite international election observers, including from the Organization of American States, eluding Peru’s electoral authorities for making elections transparent, clean, and fair without significant irregularities.
Fujimori, 46, seeks to garner nearly 200,000 votes, mostly from indigenous and mixed-race voters from the poor Andean regions who voted heavily for Castillo. According to the official vote count, Castillo has one finely-shaved lead of 40,000 votes out of the 18.8 million votes, but it cannot be officially declared president-elect until Fujimori’s challenges are resolved – a process that could take weeks.
The stakes could not be higher for Fujimori, whose father had once used army tanks to shut down Congress before his regime collapsed amid allegations of electoral fraud and kleptocracy. He faces a 25-year sentence for ordering extrajudicial killings. Now her daughter is facing a lawsuit, for allegedly laundering $ 17 million and a potentially long prison sentence – unless she acquires presidential immunity.
His critics compare his tactics to those of former US President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his loss in the November 2020 elections, with a similar damaging effect to Peru’s fragile democracy.
Fujimori supporters have chosen the houses of the head of the Andean nation’s electoral agency and members of the JNE, the electoral tribunal tasked with resolving his appeals.
They also launched a tsunami of social media attacks often tinged with racism against Castillo’s allies, journalists and anyone else questioning Fujimori’s hardball tactics, accusing them of being “communists” and even “terrorists” “. This prompted Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights to issue a statement condemning “hate speech and discrimination” and organizing all Peruvians to accept Castillo’s apparent victory.
“The Fujimori have created this idea of anti-communism as a façade to allow people to let go of their racism,” José Ragas, a Peruvian historian at the Catholic University of Chile, told Al Jazeera. “Fujimori’s only solution is to die to take everyone with her.”
When the winner is confirmed, as independent observers expect, Castillo will face an important task to rectify the Peruvian list economy and lead his polarized society past the pandemic – even when many Peruvians doubt it. of its legitimacy.
The country’s economy plummeted 11 percent last year and plunged millions into poverty, including more than a million children. Although the outgoing government of interim President Francisco Sagasti has signed contracts for 60 million COVID-19 vaccines, so far less than 5 percent of the population of 32 million people have been vaccinated in total.
But it is unclear what direction Castillo’s administration will take. He initially campaigned on the far-left platform of his party, Free Peru, which repeatedly cited Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Fidel Castro, and proposed to nationalize large chunks of the national economy. “There are no more poor people in a rich country,” was the slogan of his campaign.
Emblematic promises included renegotiating contracts with foreign mining companies to force them to leave 70 percent of their profits in the country and dedicate 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to health and education – a pledge which no economist takes seriously.
Yet there is a possibility that Castillo will moderate his policies and choose a center-left cabinet.
He may have little choice if he wants to avoid an unsuccessful and dangerous confrontation with a fragmented, populist, right-leaning incoming Congress. Despite the largest party, Free Peru will have only 37 legislators in the body with a single chamber of 130 members.
However, he may also prove ideologically more flexible than many in Free Peru, of which he is not a member and which won the presidential nomination at the last minute after the party’s founder was prevented from running due to a conviction. of corruption.
“Identity politics are never far from the surface in Peru.” Ideological differences are much more important in Lima than in the rest of the country, ”Anthony Medina Rivas Plata, a political scientist at Santa Maria de Arequipa Catholic University, told Al Jazeera.
“Castillo’s growth is not because he is left-wing, but because he comes from below. He never said whether he was a Marxist, a socialist or a communist. Whatever it is, it’s evangelical. ”
Yet their religious beliefs can also pose a problem for their ability to govern. A social conservative, he opposes LGBTQ rights and abortion, contrasting it with the progressive left, which must have its support in order to govern.
Diana Miloslavich, who runs the Flor Tristan Women’s Center, a feminist NGO, said: “I hope so. It will form a broad coalition and gender issues will be part of it. They are not only important for many of us left now, but also those at the center. The questions Castillo raises must be on the feminist agenda. ”