Peru vote review in turmoil after judge quits

FILE PHOTO: Peru's right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori and socialist candidate Pedro Castillo wave at the end of their debate ahead of the June 6 run-off election, in Arequipa, Peru May 30, 2021. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda/Pool/File Photo

Almost three weeks after a cliffhanger presidential election in Peru, the announcement of final results appeared even further off on Thursday after a judge on a panel reviewing disputed votes quit.

Leftist candidate Pedro Castillo took a majority of votes, according to the unconfirmed count, in an election slammed as fraudulent by his right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori, who has been charged with corruption in an unrelated scandal.

But the election has not been called due to the fraud claims from the Fujimori camp, which asked the National Jury of Elections (JNE) to review thousands of votes.

If she loses, Fujimori risks an imminent graft trial that would otherwise be delayed until after her presidential term.

One of four judges on the JNE, Luis Arce, announced late on Wednesday he “declined” to continue his duties, from which he cannot resign under law until the job at hand is done.

The JNE, in response, said it was weighing “immediate measures to safeguard democracy and to avoid affecting the completion of the electoral process.”

The jury can appoint a stand-in judge.

The JNE also said it “rejects the aggravated statements” made by Arce, who claimed that “everything seems to have been decided a long time ago” in favor of Castillo.

Arce’s move “constitutes an attack on the rule of law and seeks to jeopardize democracy,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch.

Castillo’s running mate Dina Boluarte accused Arce of attempting to “paralyze” the JNE.

According to the vote count, Castillo received 50.12 percent of the votes in the June 6 runoff election — some 44,000 more than Fujimori.

Amid the long, drawn-out uncertainty, retired soldiers allied to Fujimori have urged the armed forces to intervene to prevent Castillo, who they label a “communist”, from assuming the presidency.

The United States has declared the vote “free, fair, accessible and peaceful” and the Organization of American States has said it was without any “serious irregularities.”

The JNE has already rejected the majority of Fujimori’s objections.

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