Pedro Castillo thanks supporters, asks for calm after an exit poll shows the far-left candidate leading with 16.1 percent of the vote.
Far-left candidate Pedro Castillo is leading the Peruvian presidential race with 16.1 percent of the vote, followed by conservative Keiko Fujimori and liberal economist Hernando de Soto, who are both tied in second place with 11.9 percent, according to an exit poll.
In fourth place is social conservative Yonhy Lescano, with 11 percent of the vote, followed by ultra-conservative Rafael Lopez Aliaga with 10.5 percent and leftist Veronika Mendoza with 8.8 percent, according to the Ipsos poll released on Sunday night.
The official results are expected to start coming in at 11:30pm local time (04:30 GMT Monday).
The top two candidates will advance to a second round in June.
The election on Sunday came amid Peru’s deadliest week of the coronavirus pandemic to date, with polling queues vying with lines of people seeking oxygen supplies for infected loved ones. Many voters said they turned out, despite fear of infection, merely to avoid the fine of 88 sol ($24) for not voting.
Eighteen candidates are running for the presidency in the tight race, which analysts have called Peru’s “most fragmented election” ever.
Castillo asks for calm
In Castillo’s home city of Cajamarca, in Peru’s northern highlands, there were celebrations following the early result indicator.
“I am grateful to the Peruvian people for this result,” Castillo told supporters, “and I ask for calm until the final results.”
Castillo, 51, a primary-school teacher and union leader, put on a late surge in the polls, proposing answers for many of Peru’s poorest people, particularly in the country’s largely rural interior.
Peru – among one of the world’s hardest-hit COVID-19 hit countries – has been in recession since the second quarter of last year after a lockdown forced businesses to close and crippled the tourism sector. More than 54,600 people have died from COVID-19, while four million people have lost their jobs and a further five million dropped into poverty.
Peru has also been convulsed by political upheaval driven by claims of corruption at the highest levels.
The election on Sunday comes months after the country’s political chaos plunged to new lows in November, when three men were named presidents in a week after one was impeached by Congress for corruption allegations and then protests forced his successor to resign.
Castillo has promised to redraft the country’s 27-year-old constitution, one of the key demands of young protesters who launched last year’s anti-government demonstrations, with a view to weakening the business elite and giving the state a more dominant role in sectors such as mining, oil, hydropower, gas and communications.
Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori, tweeted on Sunday that she expected to take part in the next contest. “I have great faith that in the next few hours our inclusion in the second round will be confirmed,” she wrote.
Peruvians also voted for legislators who make up the country’s 130-seat Congress.
Exit poll results for that contest released by Ipsos Peru suggested that as predicted, Congress will continue to be fragmented, with 11 parties meeting the 5-percent threshold for representation but no party holding a clear majority, a potential hurdle for effective policymaking.
The Popular Action party of candidate Lescano and Castillo’s Free Peru party each obtained 10.7 percent of the votes, the Ipsos poll of voters suggested.
They were followed by the Popular Force party of Fujimori with 9.5 percent, the Popular Renovation party of Lopez Aliaga with 8.8 percent, the Country Forward party of de Soto with 8.4 percent, the Alliance for Progress party of businessman Cesar Acuna with 7.9 percent and Mendoza’s Together for Peru party with 7.7 percent, according to the exit poll result.