Peru decides not to extend period for challenges to presidential vote

Lima, Jun 11 (EFE).- Peru’s National Electoral Court (JNE) did a rapid about-face on Friday, dropping a plan to extend the deadline for challenges to last weekend’s presidential runoff after the campaign of the apparent winner denounced the move as an attempted coup.

The JNE “reconsidered” the decision and resolved not to accept any challenges filed after the statutory cutoff of 8:00 pm June 9, Peruvian media reported.

Though the ruling extending the deadline until 8:00 pm Friday was never officially published, it quickly became public, provoking a fierce reaction from the leftist Peru Libre party of Pedro Castillo, who leads opponent Keiko Fujimori by 50,000 votes with less than 1 percent of the ballots still to be counted.

Castillo’s running mate, Dina Boluarte, and several of the party’s lawyers convened a press conference to blast the JNE.

Noting that JNE magistrate Luis Arce is among the targets of an investigation of allegedly corrupted judges with ties to Fujimori, Boluarte said that Peru Libre would not allow their right-wing opponents “to twist the will of the Peruvian people.”

While Castillo’s chief legal adviser, Anibal Torres, pointed to decisions by Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal stating that the election laws are “peremptory and preclusive,” in other words: not subject to interpretation.

The background to Friday’s frenetic maneuvering was a motion brought by Fujimori’s right-wing Fuerza Popular party asking the JNE to throw out nearly 200,000 votes from 804 polling places carried by Castillo.

It turned out that only 175 of the challenges to the tally sheets from the precincts in question were filed ahead of Wednesday’s deadline Efe was able to confirm that a significant number of the challenges Fujimori managed to submit by Wednesday night had already been rejected as baseless.

Fuerza Popular has yet to provide any evidence to support its claims of “systemic fraud,” or even to venture an explanation of how such a fraud could be perpetrated by Castillo or his allies, who control none of the machinery of government.

International observers gave last Sunday’s election a clean bill of health and the Organization of American States said Friday that its observation mission had ruled out any “grave irregularities” in the process.

Five years after falling in the second round to fellow rightist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and a decade after her runoff defeat to nationalist Ollanta Humala, Keiko Fujimori awaits the official result knowing that a loss on this occasion will leave her facing trial on money-laundering charges.

She was arrested in October 2018 and spent 18 months behind bars in preventive detention before an appellate court accepted a habeas corpus motion from her lawyers.

Fuerza Popular remained under Fujimori’s control during her time locked-up and she re-entered active politics last September.

Castillo, a rural schoolteacher who has never held public office, was the surprise top vote-getter in the first round of the presidential election in April and Fujimori finished second.

Her father, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a prison term for graft and killings during his 1990-2000 rule, and the money laundering accusations against Keiko likely discouraged some conservatives who share her ideology from voting for her, despite the campaign’s attempt to frame the election as a choice between “freedom and communism.”

The next president is to take office on July 28, the 200th anniversary of Peruvian independence, but the celebration will probably be a modest one given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 180,000 lives and brought the economy to its knees. EFE amr/dr

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