ANALYSIS: Odds good for Peru leader to win 3rd term

Reuters -- 28 December 1999

by Alistair Scrutton

LIMA, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has amassed enough control over the judiciary, army and media during the last decade to win a third term against a lackluster opposition in April's elections, political analysts said on Tuesday.

Fujimori, 61, Latin America's longest-serving democratically elected president, announced on Monday he would seek re-election to a third term in office. Opinion polls have shown him beating opposition candidates.

The main presidential challengers, popular Lima Mayor Alberto Andrade and former social security chief Luis Castaneda, condemn Fujimori, saying his rule has been autocratic. But they have struggled to gain support in the Andean nation of 25 million people.

The opposition has accused government agents of hounding their campaigns, wiretapping party officials and even pelting political rallies with stones. But their criticisms have stirred little controversy among Peruvians.

``It is a foregone conclusion he will win. He has the state behind him and he controls everything now,'' said Mirko Lauer, a political analyst at the opposition newspaper La Republica. ``Peruvians have other problems than his autocracy.''

Fujimori has an impressive track record, defeating Marxist rebels and transforming an economy torn by hyperinflation. So far voters have responded more positively to his deeds than to the promises of presidential hopefuls with little experience of government.

Peruvians may fear the iron hand with which Fujimori has governed during 10 years in power, but so far it has given the 61-year-old leader a fistful of votes.

A public opinion survey conducted this month by CPI pollsters showed Fujimori with the support of 40 percent of the electorate, Castaneda with 17 percent and Andrade with 13 percent.

``Peruvians are going to prefer, as the saying goes, the bad guy that one knows to the good guy to come,'' political analyst Ernesto Velit said.

Since falling to record lows in the polls at the start of 1999, Fujimori has made a comeback by capitalizing on his charisma and his ability to draw media attention, making highly publicized trips around Peru and giving almost daily news conferences.

This year Fujimori, often dressed in a traditional Andean poncho, has tirelessly traveled to remote mountain villages and squalid city shantytowns to inaugurate new schools, hospitals and highways, all while covered by local television supportive of the president.

Cash-strapped opposition contenders have so far been unable to mount a serious challenge, analysts said. Fujimori's opponents tend to be independent candidates with weak national party support. They have little charisma and offer policies that do not differ radically from those of the president, the analysts said.

Opposition candidates have pledged to challenge Fujimori's re-election bid before the country's top electoral body, arguing that a third term would be unconstitutional.

But few analysts expect the national election board, which the opposition accuses of being under government control, to rule against the president's decision.

Fujimori's choice of Francisco Tudela as his vice presidential running mate is likely to add to his support among voters. Tudela is a former foreign minister and was one of the captives during a 1997 hostage siege by Marxist rebels in Lima.

Tudela was wounded by gunfire when commandos rescued him and 71 other VIP hostages held by MRTA rebels for four months at the Japanese ambassador's residence. He won huge respect among Peruvians for his calm disposition during the crisis.

Tudela, currently Peru's ambassador to the United Nations, will mainly help improve the country's image abroad, where rights groups have condemned Fujimori's government for manipulating courts and pressuring the media to ensure his third term bid.