Peru votes in a highly competitive presidential election, with the Andean nation divided

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© Reuters. Peru’s presidential candidate Pedro Castillo (C) walks when he arrives in Tacabamba, Peru, on June 5, 2021. Photo taken on June 5, 2021. REUTERS / Alessandro Cinque

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By Marco Aquino and Marcelo Rochabrun

LIMA / TACABAMBA, Peru (Reuters) – Peru’s presidential election hit the table on Sunday as millions voted between two candidates battling conflicting ideologies in a tight runoff that has deeply divided voters on class and geographic boundaries .

Opinion polls show the race was statistically dead, with Conservative Keiko Fujimori, who had previously followed left-wing Pedro Castillo, slightly ahead at the end of the campaign. Both have pledged very different funds to rescue Peru from the economic doldrums caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

Fujimori, 46, the daughter of the incarcerated former president Alberto Fujimori, has pledged to follow the free market model and maintain the economic stability of the world’s second largest producer.

Castillo, 51, a teacher, union leader and the son of smallholders, has pledged to revise the country’s constitution to strengthen the role of the state, take over more of the profits of mining companies and nationalize key industries.

However, with none of the candidates having a clear lead in the polls, evidence of possible election challenges from both camps and deep distrust of the political class generated by decades of corruption and instability could lead to problems after the election.

During the vote in the Lima Surco district on Sunday afternoon, Fujimori found a handful of allegations that fake ballot papers had been discovered in the capital and inland.

“We know there have been incidents today. We hope that the electoral bodies will act on this matter and that appropriate sanctions will be applied,” she said. “I also expect our party officials to be on their guard.”

She praised the “grandmas and grandpas” who appeared to vote against the backdrop of a second wave of COVID-19 in the country and a slow start to the vaccination campaign.

Castillo voted earlier in the day in his rural heartland of the northern Peruvian Andes, accompanied by a crowd of supporters who chanted “Yes we can!”

He previously warned of election fraud and said he would “be the first to call people together” if he saw evidence of foul play.

But he told the crowd on Sunday that he would respect the result and hoped the Peruvians would unite behind the successful candidate.

“If we don’t unite, we can’t move the country forward,” said Castillo.

‘FOR THE GOOD OF ALL PERUIANS’

In Lima, voters made their way to the polling stations by bike, roller-skates and on foot to avoid long traffic jams that built up during the day.

Among those who cast his vote in Lima was Luis Pizango, who said that for him, “transparency” was the key to a successful election.

“May Peru win for the benefit of all Peruvians,” he said.

In polls, urban and higher-income citizens have favored Fujimori, while the rural poor largely support Castillo.

Voting ends at 7 p.m. (2400 GMT), when polling company Ipsos Peru is expected to publish an exit poll. The first official results are expected to arrive at 11:30 p.m. (0430 GMT on Monday).

Pollsters say indecisive voters and Peruvians living abroad could make the difference. In Argentina, Australia, France, Spain and Japan, Reuters footage showed long lines of Peruvian expatriates at polling stations.

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