Peru Leader Fujimori Sets New Election, Won't Run

Reuters -- 17 September 2000

by Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru - Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, engulfed by a corruption scandal, has made the bombshell announcement that he would call an immediate general election and would not seek re-election.

A strained-looking Fujimori gave the news in an address to the nation on television and radio stations late on Saturday after more than a day of total silence in the face of a mounting scandal involving his powerful spy chief.

``After deep reflection, I have decided, first, to deactivate the National Intelligence Service (SIN) and, second, to call a general election immediately in which I will not stand,'' Fujimori said. He smiled at the end of his speech.

It was not clear when the new vote would be held.

The 62-year-old president, in power since 1990, won a third term in office in a runoff election in May that was boycotted by the opposition and condemned internationally as flawed.

Hundreds of people, many waving red-and-white Peruvian flags, took to the streets and thronged the main square outside the presidential palace where Fujimori was still huddled.

Cars sounded their horns, but there were no immediate reports of violence. Fujimori's swearing-in on July 28 was marred by violent demonstrations in which six people died.

Although Fujimori's shock announcement raised the specter of an army coup, radio stations said the situation at military headquarters across the country was calm. Fujimori's spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was widely believed to have brought the military to heel behind the president.

``This is the result of the collective work of all Peruvians,'' defeated presidential challenger Alejandro Toledo told cable channel Canal N from Washington while preparing to fly home.

But he added: ``I doubt Fujimori will keep his word.''

Spy Chief Precipitated Fujimori's Fall

Fujimori's announcement followed a video broadcast on Thursday showing Montesinos, the key adviser and spy chief many Peruvians believe was the power behind the throne, allegedly paying an opposition congressman $15,000 to switch sides.

Fernando Olivera, the opposition leader who made public the video, was jubilant.

``Finally, I feel God is Peruvian,'' he said.

Montesinos, a disgraced 56-year-old army captain with a resume that reads like a spy novel, had turned the SIN into Peru's most notorious and feared institution -- so the announcement that it was being scrapped also was a shock.

Fujimori, who has trodden a line between dictatorship and democracy since coming to power a decade ago, said it had been his ``moral obligation'' as president to act on the scandal that he said was a drag on economic recovery and ``an attack on the legitimate expectations of progress that Peruvians have.''

Carlos Reyna, a political analyst with respected private think tank DESCO, said Fujimori had had no option but to quit.

``He was backed into a corner and as captain of the government, he preferred to go down with his ship,'' he said.

True to form, the Western hemisphere's longest-serving democratically-elected president remained defiant to the end.

``A Destabilizing Factor''

``Despite having been elected by a majority of citizens, I do not wish to make myself a destabilizing factor, still less an obstacle to the democratic process,'' Fujimori said.

The president said he hoped his decision would be ``welcomed by the international organizations.''

``During these last 10 years, we have had to face ... political crises of differing sizes. ... But most importantly, we have faced all these crises, including this one, assuming as a premise the supreme interests of Peru,'' he said.

Fujimori commands widespread loyalty at home for stamping out leftist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movemente (MRTA) and Shining Path rebels, whose campaigns of violence in the late 1980s and early 1990s killed some 30,000 people.

But around half the 25.6 million population of this Andean nation lives in poverty amid biting economic crisis.

``I have governed Peru for 10 years. Even my detractors cannot help but recognize fundamental successes which I will not list here, but which you know,'' Fujimori said.

Fujimori acknowledged that the video had had ``a strong impact on the stability of my government and of the country.''

Peru's sol currency, stock market and Brady bonds -- on which it last week failed to meet a $80 million interest payment because of a legal dispute with one of its creditors -- all fell on Friday amid the political uncertainty.

Opposition congressman Carlos Ferrera said he hoped the election could take place within four months.

Earlier on Saturday, the Organization of American States (OAS) had said the allegations of top-level corruption were of ''utmost seriousness'' and demanded decisive action.

(Additional reporting Eduardo Orozco, Tania Mellado, Marco Aquino)