The polarising runoff contest between rural teacher Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, making her third run for the presidency, comes after the government’s admission that Covid-19 deaths are at least 2.5 times higher than previously acknowledged.

Workers of the Peruvian National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) distribute electoral material in voting centers in Callao, near Lima on June 5, 2021.
Workers of the Peruvian National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) distribute electoral material in voting centers in Callao, near Lima on June 5, 2021. (AFP)

Peruvian voters face a choice between two polarising populist candidates during Sunday's presidential run-off as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the South American country, festering anger among citizens and increasing the threat of social and political turbulence.  

Political novice Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori, making her third run for the presidency, have promised Covid-19 vaccines for all and other strategies to alleviate the public health emergency that has killed more than 180,000 people and pushed millions into poverty.

The election comes on the heels of a statistical revision from the Peruvian government that more than doubled the death toll previously acknowledged by officials.  

READ MOREL: Peru heads to polls to elect new president amid Covid-19 concerns

Covid-19 crisis

The pandemic has pushed hospitals to capacity, prompting the need for international assistance, created a space shortage at cemeteries, left millions unemployed and highlighted longstanding inequalities in the Andean nation, complete with a secret vaccination drive for the well-connected.

It also deepened people's mistrust of government as it mismanaged its response and the country cycled through three presidents in November amid corruption allegations and protests.

Now, the election could be the tipping point for people's simmering frustrations.

Polls have shown the candidates virtually tied heading into Sunday's runoff.

In the first round of voting, featuring 18 candidates, neither received more than 20 percent support and both are strongly opposed by sectors of Peruvian society.

Economic challenges

Fujimori, a conservative former congresswoman, has promised various bonuses to people, including a $2,500 one-time payment to each family with at least one Covid-19 victim.

She has also proposed distributing 40 percent of a tax for the extraction of minerals, oil or gas among families who live near those areas.

Her supporters include the wealthy, several players of the national football team and Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru's foremost author and the winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Vargas, who lost a presidential election three decades ago to the candidate's father, Alberto Fujimori, has moved from calling her the "daughter of the dictator convicted of criminal and thief" in 2016 to considering her to be the representative of "freedom and progress."

Fujimori herself has been imprisoned as part of a graft investigation though she was later released.

Her father governed between 1990 and 2000 and is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and the killings of 25 people.

She has promised to free him should she win.

Castillo until recently was a rural schoolteacher in the country's third-poorest district, deep in the Andes.

The son of illiterate peasants entered politics by leading a teachers' strike.

While his stance on nationalising key sectors of the economy has softened, he remains committed to rewriting the constitution that was approved under the regime of Fujimori's father.

Among Castillo's supporters are former Bolivia President Evo Morales and former Uruguay President José Mujica, who in a conversation via Facebook told Castillo on Thursday to "not fall into authoritarianism."

Peru is the second-largest copper exporter in the world and mining accounts for almost 10 percent of its GDP and 60 percent of its exports, so Castillo's initial proposal to nationalise the nation's mining industry set off alarm bells.

The winner will succeed incumbent President Francisco Sagasti on July 28.

READ MOREL: Peru top court rejects bid to block President Vizcarra's impeachment vote

Source: AP