RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The economic and political future of Peru is at stake in a runoff presidential election, and the options are complete opposites. This morning, the socialist Pedro Castillo has a narrow lead over Keiko Fujimori, the conservative daughter of an imprisoned former president. Phil Reeves is monitoring the election and joins us now from Rio de Janeiro. Hey, Phil.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.
MARTIN: As we said, the two presidential candidates are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Can you tell us more about each of them?
REEVES: Well, Pedro Castillo is a schoolteacher. He's a leftist from rural Peru. He made his name a couple of years ago as a union activist who led a strike, but really, he's not very well known in Peru or hasn't been until now, unlike his opponent, who's been a major figure on the political landscape for a long time. She's from the right. She's Keiko Fujimori. She's run twice before for president and nearly won. She's also a former congresswoman. And most importantly, she's the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who was the authoritarian president of Peru in the 1990s, as everyone knows. And he's now in jail for corruption and human rights abuses. She, too, incidentally, is facing corruption allegations and has done time in jail while those were under investigation.
MARTIN: I mean, this is very close, right? The difference this morning in the vote count between the two is less than 1%. Who appears to be winning?
REEVES: Well, Pedro Castillo is ahead but only by a sliver. It really is too close to call. A couple of percent of the vote has yet to be counted. This is in part from rural Peru, remote areas where Castillo is - has a stronghold. He's strong there. So that will probably lean in his direction. But some of them come from Peruvians abroad, who are thought to favor Fujimori. But, you know, it's so close that this is likely to be challenged. And Fujimori has actually already been alleging election irregularities by the Castillo camp. If that happens, this could drag on for days, and that will deepen the already very high tensions in a deeply divided country.
MARTIN: The pandemic hit Peru really hard. How is that playing into the election? And what are the other key issues?
REEVES: Yeah, well, it has one of the world's worst outbreaks of COVID, and there have been some horrible, terrible scenes - people without oxygen, people being unable to get intensive care beds. This has exposed the inability of government to cope, the failings of government, and it's also deepened inequality in the country. So that is a key issue.
But I think the other one is, if he wins, who will Castillo turn out to be? He represents a party called Free Peru - Peru Libre. And it's a Marxist Leninist party. But talk to political analysts and they'll say that he's not really a political ideologue so much as a populist. We know he wants to write a new constitution or to have a referendum on writing a new constitution, and we also know that he's planning to tax the all-important mining industry in Peru but says he won't be nationalizing anything. So that has the markets very worried, and that's one reason why big business and the wealthy of the capital, Lima, have particularly tilted in favor of Fujimori. So, you know, this is going to be a very interesting period now when we see exactly - if he wins, who this man actually is.
MARTIN: Right. NPR's Phil Reeves reporting from Rio de Janeiro. Thank you so much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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