Fujimori to Resign
MSNBC -- 20 November 2000
TOKYO, Nov 20 After weeks of scandal punctuated by sometimes bizarre behavior, Peru's President Alberto Fujimori announced he will step down after 10 years of rule within the next 48 hours. Cutting short a third presidential term that was tainted by accusations of election fraud, Fujimori issued a brief statement early Monday in Tokyo and it was unclear if the president would return to Lima from his ancestral homeland.
Prime Minister Federico Salas, who first broke the news that Fujimori planned to step down, left open the possibility of the 62-year-old leader would run for Congress, a move political analysts say could guarantee him immunity from a string of corruption investigations centered on his fugitive former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos. Fujimori, who has ruled Peru with an iron hand, refused to meet with a crowd of reporters who had gathered at his ritzy Tokyo hotel. A Peruvian embassy official, who refused to give his name, handed out a brief statement in Spanish confirming that the president would resign. "President Alberto Fujimori confirmed ... that he is resigning as president," the statement said. "In the course of 48 hours, he is going to formalize the decision with the newly elected president of the Congress."
Second Vice President Ricardo Marquez said Fujimori had asked him to step in as president until special elections are held in April and a new leader takes office in July. The statement issued by Fujimori did not explain why he was stepping down. Salas said the president would give his reasons when he presents his resignation to Congress on Monday or Tuesday. "What I know is that he does not want to be an obstacle to the process of democratization so that the next elections can be elections absolutely transparent for the Peruvian people," Salas told radio station Radioprogramas.
On hearing the news from Tokyo, jubilant anti-Fujimori protesters gathered in Lima's main square outside the government palace with banners reading "Thank God, the tyrant has fled."
Fujimori's ministers said they had decided to resign but would continue on until it was clear who was taking over the government. In a written statement, the ministers expressed their "indignation" that Fujimori's announcement was "made outside the country in the context of a grave crisis and uncertainty about his return."
Several ministers, including Carlos Bolona in the key economy portfolio, have hinted they will run in the elections. Under election rules, they would have to quit next month to do so. That could spook Peru's already struggling economy just as Bolona prepares to tie up agreement on key macroeconomic targets for next year on which $1 billion in loans hinge.
Peru's military high command said in a statement that it would respect any changes in the government now that Fujimori has resigned, as long as those changes respected the constitution.
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Mary Ellen Countryman said the United States would work with the Organization of American States to insure a smooth transition. "What's important for Peru is that the transition to the April 8 elections proceeds smoothly and peacefully. And we will continue to work with the OAS on that process." A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is "unclear ... who will head the interim government. We urge all parties to work together to assure a peaceful orderly and constitutional transition."
Fujimori's announcement came amid a growing corruption scandal around Montesinos. The scandal forced Fujimori to announce in September that he would step down in July after new elections - ending a decade of iron-fisted rule.
Normally under the constitution, First Vice President Francisco Tudela would assume the presidency. But Tudela presented his resignation hours after Montesinos returned to Peru on Oct. 23 after a failed asylum bid in Panama. Tudela complained that Fujimori was not in control of Montesinos and his allies. Marquez, the second vice president, had said that he, too, would resign if Congress - which last week came under opposition control for the first time since 1992 - took measures to remove Fujimori. But he said Sunday that Fujimori asked him not to quit. "I've just spoken with him and he has said he would like me to assume the position and I told the president that ... I am going to take the post," Marquez told radio station CPN.
But there were signs that a power struggle may develop. Former presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo - who boycotted a May runoff against Fujimori, alleging fraud - said in a radio interview from France that Marquez's association with Fujimori's "illegitimate" government should rule him out as a transition leader. He also demanded that Fujimori return to Peru. "Fujimori cannot resign from Japan," Toledo told reporters upon arriving at the airport in Madrid. "He needs to return to Lima and have the courage to present his resignation before Congress."
Peru's human rights ombudsman Jorge Santistevan said Tudela, the first vice president, had the right to the post because Congress had not yet accepted his resignation. "I am sure Tudela is up to the circumstances of administering the executive branch until the end and guaranteeing that Paniagua plays the role that corresponds to his democratic credentials in Congress," Santistevan said.
Next in line for succession after the second vice president is the Congress president, Valentin Paniagua, a political moderate who was installed last week by opposition legislators.
WAVE OF RUMORS
Fujimori's trip abroad prompted a wave of rumors that he would step down and seek asylum. He was criticized for leaving Peru to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, he made an unannounced detour to Japan, canceling a planned trip to Panama this weekend where Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking leaders held an Ibero-American summit. At first Japanese officials had said he was in the country only for a layover to change planes, then Japan's Foreign Ministry said Fujimori would stay longer than planned because he had a cold. But later Saturday, the Peruvian government announced that Fujimori planned to remain in Tokyo until Wednesday to negotiate loans to ease Peru's financial problems.
Fujimori, who first came to power in 1990, was born to Japanese immigrant parents who picked cotton in Peru until they opened a tailor's shop in downtown Lima. The president has maintained strong ties to Japan. His son, Hiro, lives there, as do his sister and brother-in-law, Victor Aritomi, Peru's ambassador to the country.
Fujimori's grip on power began to fall apart after Montesinos, his longtime top aide was seen apparently bribing an opposition lawmaker to support the government. A videotape of the meeting between Montesinos and the lawmaker was leaked to the media. Montesinos fled to Panama but was denied asylum and returned to Peru. Since then, Fujimori has led an unsuccessful manhunt for Montesinos, who is wanted for alleged money-laundering after Swiss authorities froze $48 million in accounts linked to the former spymaster. The amount under investigation swelled to $58 million after other accounts were discovered, authorities said. Montesinos faces criminal complaints in Peru ranging from directing state-sponsored death squads and torture to skimming profits from narcotics trades during his 10 years as Fujimori's top aide.
Despite Montesinos' dark reputation, Fujimori for years defended their close relationship, insisting that Montesinos had proved highly effective in helping to defeat leftist rebels and undercut narcotics trafficking. Fujimori won a third five-year term last May in an election marred by irregularities and boycotted by international observers. His foes said Montesinos masterminded an illegal campaign of intimidation, fraud and dirty tricks to ensure Fujimori's victory. "Fujimori's resignation under these circumstances does nothing but confirm his responsibility for 10 years of control of Peru by a mafia," said opposition Congressman Fernando Olivera. "Fujimori is mistaken if he thinks that this resignation will be enough to obtain complete impunity. The slate should not be wiped clean."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.