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June 24, 2021

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PERU: Post-vote polemic takes turn for the worse

BY Nicholas Watson

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Opponents of the leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo – seemingly the winner of the 6 June presidential run- off – are intensifying their post-election challenge. Yesterday, 23 June, one of the members of the JNE electoral board, Luis Arce Cordova, unexpectedly stepped down, alleging political partisanship within the JNE and alluding to a murky plot to suppress votes. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Moreover, Arce is under investigation for (unrelated) corruption. Instead, Arce’s departure is likely designed to discredit the JNE and by extension the entire election process.

The JNE is determining how to respond. The problem is that Arce’s official stand-in, Victor Rodriguez Monteza, is also under investigation for corruption, which makes him as compromised as Arce. Even so, the aim appears to be to stall the process to review appeals against vote annulment requests filed by Fuerza Popular (FP), Keiko Fujimori’s party. Without a quorum, the JNE’s review – which has so far ruled against all the FP challenges – is on hold.

The FP, together with others opposed to Pedro Castillo, may be hoping to block the JNE from concluding its review process by 30 June. This is when the (outgoing) Congress is scheduled to vote on the possible admission of a motion of censure vote against the congressional leadership led by Mirtha Vasquez (Broad Front – FA). If FP plus its allies in Congress can install a new congressional president, they could gain leverage over the JNE and help reinforce the notion that the election was fraudulent. The parallel process to select new judges for the Constitutional Court (TC) – rightly criticized as partisan and rushed – offers Castillo’s opponents and vested interests in Congress another opportunity to control a key institution. These potential new footholds in Congress and the TC could be far more potent than threats by retired military officers.

The other date to bear in mind is 28 July, which is when the new president is supposed to be inaugurated. If no winner has been formally declared by then, it would create awkward constitutional questions since caretaker President Francisco Sagasti cannot carry on indefinitely until an election winner is certified. The closer the current uncertainty gets to 28 July, the more tensions are likely to rise. If the strategy really is to create such a political mess that the only way out is to hold a fresh vote, this would have damaging institutional effects and likely trigger protests.

The logic of this delegitimization strategy may be fundamentally unsound. The US this week issued a statement praising Peru as “a model of democracy in the region.” Pressure to accept the outcome of the 6 June vote is also domestic. According to an IEP survey from 17-19 June, a clear majority believe Castillo won the vote. Furthermore, 53% believe there was no fraud, while 12% think there may have been some fraud but that this did not affect the overall outcome. Finally, 69% disapprove of Fujimori’s posture since the vote.

If none of this works and Castillo is confirmed as the election winner, the post-election wrecking campaign will have undermined the transition, potentially radicalized Castillo’s supporters, and built the foundations of the campaign to ensure governability crises from the outset of a Castillo presidency.

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