By Marco Aquino
LIMA – Peru’s already tense election process was plunged into further disarray after one of the four magistrates on the jury reviewing contested ballots quit after clashing with the other officials over requests to nullify votes.
Luis Arce said on Wednesday night he would leave his post after the jury rejected the first 10 requests to annul votes presented by right-wing Keiko Fujimori, who was narrowly behind socialist outsider Pedro Castillo in the June 6 vote.
Fujimori has made allegations of fraud with little evidence and sought to disqualify votes in favor of Castillo. Electoral observers have said the vote was carried out cleanly, while the U.S. State Department said it was “model of democracy.”
The tight election has starkly divided the copper-rich Andean nation with marches and protests almost daily in the capital Lima, with supporters of each side demanding respect for the popular vote.
Arce in a resignation letter alleged bias on the jury and said “decisions were already made”. His departure could hold up the confirmation of the result as the jury processes the contested ballots with just 44,000 votes between the candidates.
“The JNE has started a legal evaluation of this, to enable us to take immediate measures to safeguard democracy and to avoid it impacting the completion of the electoral process,” the body posted on Twitter, denying any claims of fraud.
Castillo’s Free Peru party said on Thursday that the resignation was aimed at “preventing the proclamation of Pedro Castillo, thereby ignoring the popular vote, breaking democracy and installing a coup d‘état with silk gloves.”
The electoral office has said it received 1,088 requests to annul ballot boxes, although of that only 281 were presented before the legal deadline. Fujimori’s conservative party has filed hundreds of appeals involving at least 200,000 votes.
Castillo, a former reacher and union leader, has rattled Peru’s political elite, mining companies and markets with plans to redistribute mineral wealth and redraft the constitution. He has, however, moderated his rhetoric in recent weeks.