LIMA, Peru – Peru’s presidential elections are heading for a runoff, with Pedro Castillo, a former far-left union activist and teacher, at the helm, according to data released Monday by the country’s electoral body.
He is likely to face a right-wing candidate in a second round of voting in June.
Castillo, a social conservative, was one of 18 candidates and took advantage of a wave of anti-establishment sentiment in an election characterized by widespread frustration with the political system.
He is likely heading for a runoff with Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori, according to a scrutiny poll by the Ipsos firm for a local television station. Behind Ms. Fujimori is an ultra-conservative, Rafael López Aliaga.
Either pair would set the stage for a highly polarized second-round election, the results of which could lead the country in radically different directions.
“This is the vote of a country that is tired, depressed, frustrated and also fed up,” said Fernando Tuesta, a Peruvian political analyst, in a statement Monday.
The election comes at a low point for Peru. During the past five years, the country has gone through four presidents and two congresses and has witnessed repeated clashes between the legislative and executive branches.
Three former presidents have spent time in jail during bribery investigations, including one candidate in this year’s election; a fourth committed suicide to avoid arrest; and a fifth, Martín Vizcarra, one of the most popular recent leaders, was indicted in November.
His replacement, who lasted less than a week in office, is under investigation in connection with the fatal shooting of two young men in the protests, prompting his resignation.
With 84 percent of the votes counted, Castillo led with 18.5 percent of the votes Monday afternoon, more than five points ahead of his closest rival.
Castillo, 51, wants to nationalize the country’s natural resources to help pay for investments in health and education; promises to have a higher court elected by popular mandate; and proposes a new constitution to favor ordinary Peruvians and not commercial interests.
In the run-up to the elections, Castillo drew large crowds in rural towns, but did not receive wide coverage from the national media until polls showed it rose to about 6 percent a week before the elections.
He celebrated his surprise victory in the poverty-stricken mountainous region of Cajamarca, where as a young man he was part of the peasant security patrol that enforces local laws and customs.
“The Peruvian people have just had the blindfold removed,” Castillo told a crowd of supporters in Cajamarca on Sunday night, wearing the wide-brimmed hat of the region’s farmers.
“We are often told that only political scientists, constitutionalists, learned politicians, those with great titles can rule a country,” he said. “They have had enough time.”
Ms. Fujimori, who is running her third run for the presidency, has been jailed three times in recent years in connection with an ongoing money laundering investigation. In this election, he vowed to stop pandemic closures and crack down on crime.
On Sunday, Marianela Linares, 43, a supporter of Castillo, said it represented “the big change” that voters were looking for but have so far not been able to find in traditional politicians.
“We have always been deceived by high-level people who always said they would help us get ahead, but who lied to us,” said Linares, a public school teacher in the Amazonian city of Puerto Maldonado. “He knows what the need is. He knows what hunger is and what it means to live in misery. “