Peruvians head to polls with masks, pens and little excitement

LIMA (Reuters) -Peruvians were preparing to head to the polls on Sunday in a presidential election marked by uncertainty due to widespread public apathy following decades of graft and mismanagement and a possible low turnout because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Polls were scheduled to open at 7 a.m. local time (1200 GMT), with three times as many sites available to voters than in previous elections as authorities try to avoid fueling a second coronavirus wave that has gripped the Andean nation.

With none of the 18 presidential candidates polling more than 11% and a “no vote” still the most popular choice for disgruntled respondents in the first round of voting, two contenders from opposite poles of the political spectrum could face off in the second round in June.

Keiko Fujimori, a right-winger and the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, who was jailed for human rights abuses, and radical leftist professor Pedro Castillo have slim leads over the rest of the field, according to the latest polls.

Populist candidate Yonhy Lescano is also high in the mix and closely followed by the ultraconservative politician Rafael López Aliaga, liberal economist Hernando de Soto and leftist candidate Veronika Mendoza.

The gap between all the candidates, however, is within the margin of error, according to pollsters Ipsos Peru and Datum Internacional. The tight race has led to jitters among market watchers of the world’s second-largest copper producer.

Peru’s 25.2 million eligible voters have been told to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and bring their own pens to mark ballots. Peru registered a record high of 314 daily deaths due to the virus in the past week.

Although voting is mandatory in Peru, there are concerns that many residents will disregard the threat of a $25 fine and stay at home.

Polls are scheduled to close at 7 p.m. (2400 GMT). An exit poll from Ipsos Peru and the first official results are expected by 11:30 p.m.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam JourdanEditing by Paul Simao

Source: Reuters