U.S. Urges Respect for Constitution in Peru Vote

Reuters -- 28 December 1999

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday urged ''strict adherence'' to the constitution in Peru, where President Alberto Fujimori's decision to seek an unprecedented third term has been decried by opponents as a ``coup d'etat.''

``Peruvian democracy can only be strengthened through strict adherence to the constitutional order,'' a senior U.S. official said, commenting on the controversy in Peru.

Fujimori announced on Monday he would seek a third five-year term in elections next April. Ten opposition parties responded by publishing a statement on Tuesday denouncing the attempt as ''an irresponsible provocation for the country and ... a new coup d'etat aimed at consolidating autocracy.''

Opposition parties have said they would challenge Fujimori's decision before the country's top election body.

The U.S. official said the legal and constitutional issues should be resolved by the relevant Peruvian authorities.

``We are neutral on whatever government is elected in a free and fair process and we are prepared to continue our cooperative relations with whomever the Peruvian people put in office,'' the official said.

However, he said: ``We must emphasize that we are not neutral on the process. Only a free, fair and transparent electoral process will have legitimacy with the Peruvian people and the international community.''

A State Department spokesman praised the Peruvian government for opening the country to election monitors and said Washington was prepared to work with fairly elected leaders.

``We look forward to working with a government elected in a free election,'' said spokesman Philip Reeker.

Fujimori first came to power in 1990 and was re-elected in a landslide in 1995 over former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

The opposition has condemned Fujimori for riding roughshod over the constitution ever since April 1992, when he dissolved Congress and the judiciary in a ``self coup'' and presided over a virtual dictatorship for eight months.

Fujimori, 61, cleared legal obstacles to a third term in 1996 when his ruling party in Congress passed a measure interpreting the constitution as allowing him to seek re-election a second time.

Despite the criticisms and an economic downturn, Fujimori leads in current polls.