Leftist school teacher Pedro Castillo on Monday was proclaimed Peru’s president-elect, six weeks after a polarizing vote of which the results were delayed by claims of electoral fraud from his right-wing rival, Keiko Fujimori.
The 51-year-old trade unionist’s victory leaves Fujimori facing an imminent corruption trial.
“On behalf of my family I would like to salute the electoral authorities ... and also to salute the political parties that have taken part in this democratic celebration,” Castillo told supporters gathered at the headquarters of his Free Peru party in Lima.
“Dear compatriots, I bring here an open heart for each and every one of you,” he said from the balcony after Jorge Luis Salas, head of the National Jury of Elections, announced his victory in a brief online ceremony.
In a gesture to Fujimori, 46, the president-elect urged her to help “take the country forward” and said he held “no resentment,” despite the many attacks he had fielded.
A crowd of hundreds that had spent weeks outside the National Jury of Elections headquarters to support Castillo broke out in celebration at the news.
“Finally, we have a president,” said Rosa Huaman, a 27-year-old Castillo supporter among the chanting crowd.
The jury validated the vote count by the National Office of Electoral Processes, which had given Castillo 50.12 percent of the ballots cast, about 44,000 more than Fujimori — most of whose objections the jury dismissed.
Fujimori earlier on Monday had pledged to recognize the result “because it is required by the law and the constitution that I have sworn to defend.”
She had claimed fraud, despite observers from the Organization of American States, the US and the EU declaring the vote free and fair, and her backers had called for fresh elections.
The US embassy in Lima congratulated Peruvians on a successful election.
“We value our deep ties and hope to strengthen them with the president-elect Pedro Castillo after his inauguration,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.
The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro — whose 2018 re-election the US and other nations do not recognize — congratulated Castillo in a statement.
Maduro wished Castillo “much wisdom” in his new role and looked forward “to work hand in hand with the new government in Peru,” it said.
It was Fujimori’s third unsuccessful stab at the presidency, with failed bids in 2011 and 2016 giving rise to charges she took money from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Prosecutors have said they would seek a 30-year jail term for Fujimori.
Under Peruvian law, the case against her would have been suspended if she had become president.
Castillo, who is due to be sworn in on Wednesday next week, in April surprised many by taking the lead in the race to become Peru’s fifth president in three years, edging out 17 other candidates.
He faced Fujimori in the runoff with promises to improve the fate of Peruvians contending with a recession worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising unemployment and poverty.
Castillo has targeted creating 1 million jobs in a year, and said Peru’s mining and hydrocarbon riches “must be nationalized.”
Peru is a major producer of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc, and mining brings in 10 percent of national GDP and one-fifth of the nation’s corporate taxes.
Castillo has also promised public investment to reactivate the economy through infrastructure projects and public procurement from small businesses, and to “curb imports that affect the national industry and peasantry.”
Among his more controversial campaign promises, Castillo has vowed to expel illegal foreigners who commit crimes in Peru, giving them “72 hours ... to leave the country.”
The comment was perceived as a warning to undocumented Venezuelan migrants, who have arrived in the hundreds of thousands since 2017.
The far-left trade unionist was largely unknown until he led a national strike four years ago that forced the then-Peruvian government to agree to pay rise demands.
He is Catholic and vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage, elective abortion and euthanasia.
To combat crime, Castillo has proposed withdrawing Peru from the American Convention on Human Rights to allow it to reintroduce the death penalty.
He has also mooted replacing Peru’s free-market-friendly constitution — a relic of his rival’s father, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving jail time for corruption and crimes against humanity.
Peruvians voted for their fifth president in three years after a series of crises and corruption scandals saw three different leaders in office in a single week in November last year.
Seven of the nation’s past 10 leaders have either been convicted or are under investigation for graft.
Peru has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With 195,243 deaths, it is the nation with the highest mortality rate.
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