LIMA, Peru — Pedro Castillo, the provincial schoolteacher who promised to restructure Peru’s economy to favor the poor, was confirmed Monday evening as the Andean country’s president-elect more than six weeks after the election.
The result followed a deeply divisive election and last-ditch legal challenges by Fujimori. Her lawyers made unsubstantiated claims of fraud in an effort to get 200,000 votes thrown out.
Shortly before Peru’s national election tribunal declared the result, after dismissing the last of Fujimori’s appeals, she finally acknowledged Castillo’s triumph — even as she cast doubt on its validity. Fujimori, 46, said she would recognize him as president because “that is what the law and the constitution that I have sworn to defend order,” but then she said his victory was “illegitimate” and that “the truth will come out.”
In a speech to supporters from a balcony at his party headquarters in downtown Lima, Castillo addressed Fujimori directly, telling her that there should be no more “obstacles” or “hindrances” barring Peru from progressing.
Stressing that all Peruvians would be welcome to help his government move the country forward, he added: “Welcome everyone. Bring your experience, but with your loyalty and transparency. We’re not going to rob a single cent from the Peruvian people.”
It’s unclear whether Castillo, 51, will be able to fulfill his campaign promises — or even stay in office for his full five-year term.
Although his Marxist-Leninist Free Peru party is the largest in Peru’s incoming Congress, with 37 seats in the 130-member single-chamber body, he will face a conservative majority led by the 24 members of Fujimori’s Popular Force, the second-largest party.
Several of his proposals — including any economic measure found to be “confiscatory” — could be deemed unconstitutional by the courts.
The election has also raised questions about the future of Peru’s hard-fought battle against entrenched corruption. Of the country’s nine presidents since 1990, one, Alberto Fujimori — Keiko’s father — is in jail, another is fighting extradition from California, a third shot himself to avoid arrest, and four others are under criminal investigation.
Although there is no suggestion of Castillo being involved in graft, his mentor, Vladimir Cerrón, a Cuban-trained surgeon and former regional governor, is serving a four-year suspended sentence for influence peddling and faces more corruption investigations.
Cerrón, who has a record of misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic public comments, is widely viewed within Peru as controlling Castillo, one of various factors thought to weigh down his candidacy. Castillo has publicly sought to play down his mentor’s influence, claiming that he would not even appoint the Free Peru founder as a “janitor” in his administration.
Samuel Rotta, head of the Peruvian branch of the anti-corruption group Transparency International, warned that Castillo appears unaware of basic aspects of Peru’s existing anti-corruption efforts. “We’ll have a clearer idea of where he is going to go on this when he names his policy team,” Rotta said. “Right now, we just don’t know which faction of Free Peru will win out.”
One potentially positive sign, Rotta said, was Castillo’s campaign promise to establish an international anti-corruption investigatory committee in Peru similar to committees that have helped indict powerful politicians in Guatemala and Honduras.
“He just threw it out there in one of his speeches,” Rotta said. “But I think it is something that he can be held to. It would be a question of putting meat on the bones of the proposal, and getting a team of international prosecutors to support — and help protect — their Peruvian counterparts.”
Castillo also will have to deal with the coronavirus. Peru has the world’s highest covid-19 death rate, and public health experts are warning of an imminent third wave. So far, Peru has administered 10 million vaccine doses, with just 12 percent of the country’s 32 million people fully vaccinated.
On the campaign trail, both Castillo and Fujimori promised to end lockdowns and provide free vaccinations for the entire population. Nevertheless, both politicians were also heavily criticized for flouting social distancing rules at their campaign events. It remains unclear what other plans the president-elect has to reduce mortality and support Peru’s overwhelmed hospitals.
The outgoing administration of interim president Francisco Sagasti has secured 60 million more vaccine doses, from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the Chinese manufacturer Sinopharm, which are due to arrive in batches throughout the rest of the year. If those contracts are honored, a successful vaccination program could significantly boost the new government’s popularity.