‘We are not communists’: Castillo seeks to allay fears in divided Peru

Peru's Pedro Castillo

Peruvian socialist Pedro Castillo, a former teacher and political outsider on the verge of being named president, has looked to temper fears in the divided Andean nation after a slow vote count showed him winning the June 6 ballot.

Castillo on Tuesday claimed victory in the election, though his right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori has made allegations of fraud with little evidence and sought to get votes annulled. The electoral body has yet to confirm the result.

“The Peruvian people have raised their heads to say democratically we are going to save this country,” Castillo told cheering supporters from a balcony late on Tuesday.

The abrupt rise of 51-year-old Castillo has rattled Peru’s political establishment and could have a major impact on the vital mining industry in the world’s No.2 copper producer, with Castillo planning sharp tax hikes on the sector.

In the capital Lima, fears have spread among the city’s small but powerful urban elite about the likely election win of the little-known leftist, whose Free Peru party espouses Marxist ideas but who himself has looked to moderate his rhetoric.

“We are not Chavistas, we are not communists, no one has come to destabilize this country,” he said, a reference to a common refrain from Fujimori’s party and supporters comparing him to Venezuela’s late leftist President Hugo Chavez.

“We are workers, we are entrepreneurs and we will guarantee a stable economy, respecting private property, respecting private investment and above all respecting fundamental rights, such as the right to education and health.”

Castillo, who gained prominence as a teachers’ union leader in the rural north, said his government would serve voters in wealthy areas, who rallied behind Fujimori, as well as his rural base in Peru’s “furthest corners”.

Fujimori pledged on Tuesday to keep fighting and “defend Peru’s democracy”. She hoped the result would swing her way once ballots that her party is seeking to annul had been checked, despite election observers that the process appeared clean.

Her supporters are planning a march later on Wednesday.

Peru’s electoral oversight body said it would confirm the result once it had resolved all appeals and requests for annulment. In previous Peruvian elections the announcement took until late June, even with fewer contested ballots.

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