With 97 percent of the ballots counted, former investment banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski held onto a 0.28 percentage point lead over rival Keiko Fujimori in Peru's cliffhanger presidential election on Tuesday as votes continued to be tallied two days after polling stations closed.
Ballots from Peruvians living in the United States and Europe were still trickling in and could decide the election. An early tally suggested they would favor Kuczynski, a 77-year-old former prime minister who worked for years on Wall Street.
The margin between the two business-friendly candidates, now about 57,000 votes, had shrunk over the past day and held steady in the latest update by Peru's electoral office, ONPE, on Tuesday.
Kuczynski supporters are optimistic that his lead will prevail after two unofficial counts showed him winning by at least 1 percent, though the margin remains too narrow to declare victory.
"We take these results with optimism, but also with modesty," Kuczynski told supporters.
Fujimori has shown no sign she's ready to concede, saying the figures point to a technical tie and that she would wait for official results.
"I am proud that we have 50 percent of the population's support," said Fujimori. "I'm asking all of you to keep believing in our future."
Meanwhile, former leftist candidate Veronika Mendoza told teleSUR that preliminary results show that Peruvians reject a government connected to drug trafficking and former dictator Alberto Fujimori.
The two candidates, who were virtually tied in pre-election polling, largely offer continuity with the current neoliberal system and are both right-of-center. Their platforms offer similar plans for reducing poverty and crime while boosting development and tourism.
Fujimori's slight lead over Kuczynski melted away in recent days, evoking memories of her close defeat to outgoing President Ollanta Humala in 2011.
Many Peruvians are suspicious of Fujimori because of her father’s repressive policies, with thousands of Peruvians hitting the streets in the lead-up to elections for several anti-Fujimori rallies. Alberto Fujimori, her dad, is serving a sentence of 25 years in prison for human rights abuses and corruption.
The daughter is also caught up in several scandals, with several of her party members under investigation for connections with drug trafficking.
The election pits the Fujimori family's brand of conservative populism against Kuczynski's elite background and stiff technocratic style that has curbed his appeal in poor provinces and working-class districts.
Fujimori, who has repeatedly said democracy is not at risk, has waged a more energetic campaign than her rival, whirling out regional dances in far-flung villages where she has promised to deliver tractors and portrayed her rival as out-of-touch with struggling Peruvians.
Kuczynski greets voters in footage captured by teleSUR.
Peruvians hold signs sayijng, 'Fujimori, never again' | Photo: Reuters
The younger Fujimori has also responded to the top voter concern, crime, with a hard-line stance that includes support for the death penalty and promises to lock up the most dangerous criminals in five new prisons she would have built high in the Andes.
If Kuczynski wins, he would have to reckon with a solid majority of Fujimori's party in Congress and a leftist alliance that has promised not to align with either of them.