Presidential vote count drags on, leaving Peruvians on edge

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Economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski clung to a thin lead over the daughter of a jailed former president early Wednesday as the count from Peru's presidential election dragged on, straining nerves in a nation divided after a polarizing campaign.

With tallies from almost 98 percent of polling stations counted, Kuczynski had 50.2 percent of the votes compared with 49.8 percent for Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former strongman Alberto Fujimori. The total number of votes separating them hovered just above 56,000.

While two quick counts showed Kuczynski prevailing in Sunday's election, still being counted are the ballots cast by 885,000 Peruvians eligible to vote abroad, the last of which are expected to arrive in Peru on Wednesday. Peruvians living abroad, the majority in the United States, turned out massively for Fujimori in the 2011 election but are expected to be more split in the support this time around.

About 1,200 handwritten tallies representing up to 360,000 votes were being disputed and were sent to a special electoral board for review, Mariano Cucho, the head of Peru's electoral authority, told RPP Radio on Tuesday

Both candidates have remained largely silent while awaiting final results of what is Peru's tightest presidential race since 1962, which ended in a military coup.

"Tranquility and serenity," Kuczynski urged on Tuesday, amid strained nerves among his supporters. "We have to wait for the final verdict. We're almost there."

Regardless of who wins, half of voters are bound to be disappointed, making it harder for the next president to govern. Aides in both campaigns are jockeying for positions in an eventual alliance in congress, where Fujimori's Popular Force won a solid majority of 73 of 130 seats. Kuczynski's fledgling movement will have just 18, fewer than the country's main leftist alliance.

While Kuczynski's campaign said it is ready to work with all political groups, supporters of Fujimori expressed doubt that the wounds from the final stretch of the campaign, in which Kuczynski accused Keiko Fujimori of being the harbinger of a "narco-state," could be easily healed.

"They called us drug traffickers, thieves," said Lourdes Alcorta, a congresswoman. "It's going to be difficult for us to hug them."

If Kuczynski holds onto his lead, it would be a stunning turnaround. Fujimori topped by more than 20 points a field of 10 candidates in the first round of voting in April and consistently led Kuczynski in polls taken before Sunday's runoff.

Kuczynski, 77, managed to climb back in the race by attacking his younger rival as a risk to Peru's young democracy.

Playing on memories of Alberto Fujimori's well-known ties to corruption, organized crime and death squads, for which he's serving a 25-year prison sentence, he seized on string of scandals that hobbled Fujimori in the final stretch.

The most notable was a report that one of her big fundraisers and the secretary general of her party was the target of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation. Peru is the world's largest producer of cocaine.

PPK, as Kuczynski is almost universally known in Peru, also benefited from a last-minute endorsement by the third-place finisher in the first round of voting, leftist congresswoman Veronika Mendoza, the protagonist of a massive anti-Fujimori demonstration last week the likes of which Peru has not seen since the turbulent end of her father's rule 16 years ago.


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