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PEDRO CASTILLO, a rural teacher and union leader, has won the Peruvian elections with 50.179 per cent and a margin of approximately 60,000 votes (0.4 per cent).
Keiko Fujimori, the candidate of the far-right and the daughter of ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, has cried fraud and commenced a legal battle to overturn the result by demanding the annulment of over 200,000 votes across Peru’s rural regions.
And while the current presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have congratulated Castillo as the president-elect, Fujimori appears to be determined to seize power through a process similar to the coup that took place in Bolivia in November 2019.
When analysing the campaign of both sides, the drastic differences between the two candidates are not only ideological, but also cultural and societal.
Castillo’s image as a humble rural teacher from the northern region of Cajamarca and a union leader who led a successful national teachers’ strike in 2017 resonated so strongly among the rural and urban populations of the country’s interior that the final vote tally was over 80 per cent in many of them.
Castillo completely obliterated Fujimori in the regions of Puno (89 per cent), Huancavelica (85 per cent), Cusco (83 per cent), Apurimac (81 per cent) and Ayacucho (81 per cent).
This “deep Peru” also has a profoundly indigenous character (especially Cusco), which strongly rejected the rule by the Lima-based oligarchy.
Castillo and Peru Libre used a similar campaign formula that handed them the first-round victory — campaign meetings, rallies and gatherings throughout Peru’s south, centre and the north.
These are the regions that bore the brunt of Fujimori’s neoliberal policies and repression in the ’90s.
Castillo’s first-round campaign was also considered remarkable for mostly ignoring social media (Castillo did not have a Twitter or an Instagram account until after the first-round victory) and instead embracing traditional face-to-face campaigning throughout the country.
Throughout the mass meetings that he held in the country, he spoke of the need to end the vicious cycle of corruption within Peru’s neoliberal state, recover and renationalise the key industries, utilities (especially water) and Peru’s natural resources.
Castillo also embraced the popular demand for a new constitution and the creation of a constituent assembly, like the one recently founded in Chile.
He also promised immediate action on the Covid-19 pandemic through mass importation of the Sputnik-V vaccine from Russia and continual co-operation with China.
During his campaign, he also opposed the US intervention in Venezuela and promised that the country would leave the “Lima Group” comprised of the region’s key right-wing governments that have been pushing for the overthrow of the government of Nicolas Maduro.
On the other hand, Fujimori’s campaign was a blend of fearmongering, pork-barrel populism and huge investment in publicity in all of Peru’s private media.
This was especially profound in Lima and its metropolitan area, as well as the country’s coastal regions.
Throughout the campaign, massive billboards projected text and images such as “Yes to Democracy! No to Communism!” and “We don’t want to be another Venezuela!”
The desperation of the part of Fujimori’s campaign was notable.
One of the most ridiculed promises of her campaign was the proposed “water bonus” to assist in the cost of utilities throughout Peru’s central and northern regions.
It was pointed out many times that it was her father, Alberto Fujimori, who was responsible for the privatisation of water utilities in the first place.
The legacy of Alberto, Keiko’s own role in his government and the current investigations against on her on charges of bribery and corruption also weighed heavily on her campaign.
The disappearances and assassinations of social campaigners and trade union activists, the forced sterilisation of more than 250,000 indigenous women, the privatisation of state industries and the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars under the rule of Fujimori is still fresh in the country’s memory.
In the end, this vision of a repeat of the 1990s under Keiko’s presidency pushed the country to embrace a radical social change personified by an individual of humble origins who never held a political office but sought to fulfil the popular demands of the majority that have been forgotten and neglected for decades.
In this manner, his victory echoes those achieved by Hugo Chavez, Lula da Silva, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa.
Castillo is poised to write a new chapter in the history of Peru and the wave of popular left-wing governments.
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