Peru Leader Registers Candidacy

Associated Press -- 8 January 2001

by Rick Vecchio

LIMA, Peru - Alejandro Toledo, the opposition leader whose fiery speeches helped topple Alberto Fujimori, registered his candidacy for president Monday.

Toledo, a U.S.-trained economist, has a commanding lead in the polls and is favored to win the presidency, although he could face a runoff if he fails to win 50 percent of the votes in the April 8 election.

About a dozen presidential hopefuls were expected to register their candidacies with the National Elections Board before a midnight deadline.

But grabbing the news spotlight Monday was former President Alan Garcia, who was nominated by his left-leaning Aprista party as its presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. He said he would return to Peru from Colombia, where he sought political asylum in 1992.

``I will return to Peru because the dictatorship has fallen,'' Garcia told radio station Radioprogramas earlier Monday.

Garcia's 1985-90 populist administration was marred by guerrilla violence, corruption and hyperinflation, and he faces arrest on corruption charges if he returns to Peru. His supporters have lobbied hard in recent weeks to have the charges dropped.

Over the weekend, they presented a videotaped statement from a businessman recanting a 1995 accusation that Garcia extorted a $1.25 million kickback. He claimed Fujimori's intelligence agents forced his testimony, threatening him and his family.

Leading contender Toledo boycotted a presidential runoff against Fujimori last May, alleging the ballot was being rigged. The move helped galvanize Peru's splintered opposition against the autocratic leader following an election campaign marred by government irregularities and allegations of fraud.

Toledo's promise of jobs and his native Indian heritage have struck a chord among the country's predominantly Indian and mixed-race majority who represent 80 percent of Peru's population of 25 million.

Other candidates include former Congresswoman Lourdes Flores Nano and former Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge Santistevan.

Also running is Congressman Fernando Olivera, who in September revealed a videotape purportedly showing Fujimori's fugitive ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos bribing an opposition lawmaker, which led to Fujimori's downfall.

Congress declared Fujimori morally unfit for office after he fled to Japan, his ancestral homeland, in November, leaving behind a nation rocked by corruption scandals surrounding Montesinos.