June 2, 2021

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PERU: Polls tighten ahead of run-off as political instability set to endure

BY Nicholas Watson

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Campaigning for the 6 June presidential run-off vote officially closes tomorrow, 3 June. The race is between the leftist Pedro Castillo of the Peru Libre (PL) party and Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza Popular (FP). Two-thirds of voters voted for candidates other than Castillo and Fujimori in the April first-round vote.

Recent polls

Based on four major polls (Ipsos, EIP, Datum, and CPI) carried out late last week, Castillo is just ahead of Fujimori. However, Castillo’s lead is within the margin of error. Moreover, the percentage of voters who have not yet made up their minds is larger than the difference between the two candidates. At the same time, all the polls suggest Castillo dipped a little in the penultimate week of the campaign, while Fujimori advanced slightly. The ban on publishing polls in the final run-up to the vote makes it difficult to assess whether this dynamic is continuing, or to detect any other last-minute shifts in sentiment (e.g., a reduction in the percentage of protest votes, which appears likely to reach double figures). However, the Ipsos poll showed no real change in the candidates’ anti-votes, which would suggest that a dramatic last-minute pivot towards Fujimori is unlikely.

Covid-19

The Covid-19 mortality correction announced on 31 May could be significant because it substantiates one of Castillo’s main tenets: that ordinary Peruvians are victims of state weakness and endemic corruption that only sweeping political change can resolve. The death toll from the pandemic was raised from just under 70,000 to over 180,000 at the end of May, giving Peru the world’s highest per capita Covid-19 mortality rate. The correction only confirms what was already widely perceived, but its timing – just days before the vote – could represent an important boost for Castillo.

Post-vote horizon

Governability challenges will be significant whoever wins. The pandemic is far from over, and the vaccine campaign will require leadership and organization – neither of which are attributes of Castillo’s to judge from his run-off campaign. Although economic activity is picking up, the effects of last year’s 11.1% contraction on the social situation have been profound. Voters are sharply divided between Lima and the rest of the country. Congress will be fragmented, and neither Castillo nor Fujimori would have a legislative majority. Nor are some of the basic rules under which the next president will govern completely certain as the outgoing congress looks to introduce a second chamber and alter the executive-congressional balance of power before the next president takes office on 28 July.

Congressional challenges would be most pronounced under Castillo, whose pledge to change the constitution would face immediate hurdles. Governability under Fujimori would be less difficult, though as yesterday’s protests against her attest, she would also face a hostile opposition and only minimal political capital. A very close and/or contested outcome would exacerbate these challenges.

Vote practicalities

Polls open at 7am. To avoid crowding at polling centers, voting has been extended until 7pm. Voters have also been given slots (on the basis of their ID number) in which to vote, with the 2-4pm window reserved for older voters and other people classified as vulnerable. Exit polls should be released shortly after voting closes. The first bulletin of results is expected around 11.30pm, with updates to follow through the night.

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