Peru President Faces Turmoil

Associated Press -- 26 May 2000

by Monte Hayes, Associated Press Writer

LIMA, Peru (AP) - President Alberto Fujimori heads into Sunday's presidential runoff alone, racing toward certain victory - and a possible future of international isolation and domestic turmoil.

Criticism rained down Friday after Fujimori's decision to go ahead with the runoff despite the boycott of opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo, violent street protests and the withdrawal of foreign monitors.

President Clinton urged Peru on Friday to postpone the runoff, saying that without a delay, there is no way to ensure the election is fair. ``Free, fair and open elections are the foundation of a democratic society,'' Clinton said. ``Without them, our relationship with Peru inevitably will be affected.''

Meeting with reporters late Friday, Toledo called Fujimori, ``a dictator who is attempting to perpetuate himself in power with fraud.''

Analysts said that by running uncontested, Fujimori risked having the legitimacy of his rule questioned.

``What he has done is suicide,'' said political scientist Fernando Rospigliosi. ``It will be a government considered illegitimate by a large portion of the population and will be questioned constantly.'' Monitors from the Organization of American States insisted the election be postponed at least 10 days to give their experts time to evaluate ballot-counting computer software. The OAS said it would reduce its mission to an absolute minimum because by international standards, Peru's electoral process is tainted.

Fujimori is seeking a third five-year term despite a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms.

``If Fujimori forces the election on the 28th and he is proclaimed president, he is not going to last until the end of the year,'' predicted Julio Carrion, an authority on Peruvian politics who teaches at the University of Delaware. ``People have been mobilized. The international community is clearly against a continuation of his rule.'' Fujimori has shown surprising resilience in the past. International criticism of his actions seemingly has no effect on him. Polls released this week show Fujimori with a comfortable lead of eight to 10 percentage points over Toledo, prompting many to wonder why he did not agree to postpone the vote.

``By allowing the postponement to go on it was a win-win situation for President Fujimori,'' Eduardo Stein, head of the OAS mission, said Friday. But hard-liners within the government, particularly military commanders, apparently feared public opinion could swing to Toledo again during a prolonged campaign.

Fujimori has ruled in close alliance with the military, which supported him when he temporarily shut Congress and the Supreme Court in 1992, accusing them of blocking his war on leftist rebels.

Fujimori's running mate, Francisco Tudela, told foreign correspondents Thursday that it was possible the United States might impose sanctions, but he was confident Latin American countries would not.

Caretas magazine reported Friday that Prime Minister Alberto Bustamante told OAS observers: ``Peru has the means to withstand the pressure and the possible economic isolation.'' Peru has nearly billion in foreign reserves. When Fujimori assumed power in 1990, the country was virtually bankrupt. Nevertheless, analysts within and outside Peru warned that Fujimori's government could face years of economic sanctions and tension with Washington that could put the brakes on investment and growth.

In one indicator this week, Peruvian bond and stock prices plummeted and foreign financial institutions issued risk warnings that threatened to increase interest rates.