Peru's Toledo Wins Presidential Election

Reuters -- 3 June 2001

by Jude Webber

LIMA, Peru - Economist Alejandro Toledo won Peru's presidential election on Sunday after a 14-month odyssey in which he narrowly beat his leftist rival Alan Garcia.

Latest official results with 61.9 percent of ballots counted gave Toledo 51.58 percent to 48.42 percent for Garcia, Peru's president from 1985 to 90.

``I think the moment has come to extend to Mr. Toledo my congratulations as the victor,'' a calm-looking Garcia, 52, his wife at his side, told reporters.

``He will have in me a loyal collaborator to cooperate in economic, social and institutional construction of our homeland ... I will give all my help,'' he added.

Thousands of delighted supporters who saw Toledo as a hero for fighting ex-President Alberto Fujimori (news - web sites)'s repressive regime, were already celebrating in the streets over the victory.

``Today the change begins,'' proclaimed a huge white and green banner on the facade of the Lima hotel where Toledo was awaiting the results. He was expected to address crowds later.

Toledo, a 55-year-old centrist has promised to create a million jobs but manage Peru's struggling economy prudently.

His fans cheered Toledo's campaign nickname ``Pachacutec'' -- in reference to a mighty 15th century Inca emperor -- and waved banners saying ``Thank you Peru.''

``I think this is excellent -- Toledo is best for the country,'' said Adalberto Suyon, 34, a security guard.

Renowned novelist Mario Vargas Llosa said victory for Toledo, who shares the humble Andean Indian roots of most of Peru's population, would be ``a symbolic triumph'' after Fujimori's fall last November amid a corruption scandal sparked by his fugitive spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

Toledo stood unsuccessfully against Fujimori in elections a year ago described by monitors as undemocratic. He then led street protests against Fujimori's third term, which soon ended in chaos after the machinations of Montesinos and alleged manipulation of Peru's Congress, courts, media and military were exposed.

Rebuilding Peru

``This is a good start for the reconstruction of democracy from the ruins of the Fujimori and Montesinos regime,'' Vargas Llosa told cable television channel Canal N.

Nevertheless Toledo, a U.S.-educated business school professor and former World Bank (news - web sites) consultant, will have a tough job to unite Peru and deliver on big promises of prosperity.

Despite months of campaigning, he failed to shake off an impetuous image or attain the gravitas of a statesman after allegations he fathered a child outside marriage whom he does not recognize and tested positive for cocaine.

Garcia has struggled to persuade voters he would not repeat the hyperinflation and economic mistakes of his first term. He was accused of accepting $1 million in bribes when president, but analysts said he had emerged strengthened and now had a pivotal role in a hung Congress.

``Four months ago Alan Garcia was the pariah of Peruvian politics ... Today he leads the opposition and is a central player,'' said political analyst Augusto Alvarez.

Vargas Llosa said the new president would have to get to work ''from tomorrow to revive this half dead'' country.

Luis Oganes, sovereign debt strategist at JP Morgan in New York, said financial markets would be pleased and predicted the price of Peruvian bonds could leap. ``I think we're up for a very good opening tomorrow for Peru and a very good market performance ... I think the rebound is going to be strong.''

Toledo promised that if elected he would use his five-year term to bring prosperity to this Andean nation of 26 million people. It is just smaller than the U.S. state of Alaska.

But many voters, casting their ballots for the fourth time in 14 months, remained cynical.

``With all that has been promised, we don't believe anything anymore. Let's hope he (Toledo) brings jobs,'' said Fanny Gamarra, a 32-year-old mother who left her ballot blank.

(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan, Eduardo Orozco, Teresa Cespedes in Peru and Hugh Bronstein in New York)