Fujimoru/Toledo, Protests, Stock Market Symptoms
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Sat May 20 04:38:52 MDT 2000
Fujimori continues campaigning as challenger calls for protests
May 19, 2000
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EDT (0440 GMT) LIMA, Peru -- President Alberto Fujimori
is continuing to campaign for re-election, battling against a contender who has
alleged fraud, refused to participate in a May 28 runoff, and called for street
protests. In the midst of a growing political crisis, Fujimori flew to Huanuco
in the central Andes Friday for a campaign rally as his supporters assailed
Alejandro Toledo, a U.S.-educated economist, for his decision to withdraw.
Francisco Tudela, Fujimori's running mate, called Toledo and his allies
"complainers, cry babies ... who play at politics."
Toledo, who denied Fujimori an outright win in April's first round amid huge
street protests, said there was not enough time to resolve irregularities, such
as bug-plagued computers and media bias, to ensure the vote was democratic. He
has been running neck and neck with Fujimori in opinion polls. "This is
(Fujimori's) worst crisis ever," said Mirko Lauer, analyst for the
opposition-leaning La Republica newspaper. He said the region's top diplomatic
body, the Organization of American States (OAS), could call for a vote delay.
The board, controlled by Fujimori appointees, rejected the request. The U.S.
State Department supported the OAS request for a delay and regretted Toledo's
decision to withdraw as well as the election board's "hasty ruling." Police
use tear gas on demonstrators
Branding Fujimori a dictator, Toledo called Friday for peaceful street protests
across Peru to force a delay in the runoff. But he warned that he would not take
part in a delayed election if the irregularities were not corrected. "The
moment has arrived to stand up to the dictatorship," he shouted to the roars of
supporters at a street rally in Lima on Thursday night. "I blame the president
... for the possible consequences of leading Peru ... to instability in a
country on a razor's edge," Toledo, the son of an Andean peasant, told
reporters. In the northern fishing port of Chimbote, police had to use tear
gas to drive back demonstrators who threw bottles and rocks at a Fujimori
campaign rally. Police formed a human barrier to keep the protesters from
Fujimori when he arrived from Huanuco. Romulo Munoz, a member of the election
board, said Friday that Toledo still had not made the written formal request to
have his name withdrawn from the May 28 ballot. Law doesn't provide for
Constitutional experts agreed that Peruvian electoral laws do not provide for a
candidate to withdraw after elections have been called and predicted the
National Election Board would allow the runoff to take place over Toledo's
objections. "The government is going to continue with the idea of the May 28
election," said political analyst Fernando Tuesta. "What it will produce is a
seriously damaged government." Although Toledo was refusing to take part in
the runoff, he gave every indication of still being on the campaign trail with
his call for massive street protests. "We are continuing our campaign ...
until the day when a clean election is carried out," Toledo said Friday.
Toledo urged Peruvians to boycott the May 28 vote to discredit the result, but
political experts said a widespread boycott was unlikely because voting is a
legal requirement. Those who fail to vote must pay the equivalent of a $40 fine,
a large sum in a country where the minimum wage is less than $120 a month.
Speaking with foreign correspondents Friday, Toledo said, "We're aware that
voting is obligatory. Let's see if they can collect fines from 5 million
Peruvians." Some 11 million Peruvians voted in the first round.
Stock market plummets
In a sign the crisis could hit the economy, Peruvian stocks fell 3.43 percent on
Friday, their biggest decline in 15 months, due partly to the electoral
turbulence. The Standard & Poor's credit rating agency said it could cut
Peru's long-term foreign debt credit rating, warning that the crisis could
weaken the next government. Peru's turbulence comes amid increasing U.S.
concerns over instability in an Andean region rocked by leftist rebel violence
in Colombia, the unpredictable President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and a
financial crisis in Ecuador. "I must say I am depressed about the way that
that has been going on," U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told
reporters in Washington. "We will continue to watch those elections very
carefully." There have been fears of government vote-rigging in the runoff
since a turbulent first round in April. Fujimori, bidding for a third term, won
49.87 percent of the votes in that ballot falling just short of an outright win.
Toledo, a free marketeer with populist touches, won 40.24 percent. Challenger
has to 'force a crisis'
Political analysts said Toledo apparently was aiming to discredit Fujimori's
election to a third five-year term through widespread street protests at home
and international pressure from abroad. "I think that the objective of Mr.
Toledo's declarations is to undercut the legitimacy of an eventual triumph,"
said Anibal Quiroga, a constitutional expert. Political scientist Julio
Carrion agreed. "Toledo has realized that to beat this guy he has to force a
political crisis," he said. "Fujimori is not somebody who sticks to
constitutional rules or any sort of rules." But discrediting Fujimori's
government may be difficult. David Scott Palmer, an expert on Peru at Boston
University, notes that half of the electorate supports Fujimori because of his
success in fighting leftist guerrillas and eliminating annual inflation that
exceeded 7,000 percent. "We overlook the fact that he really does have a
genuine base of support. When you reduce extreme poverty by 50 percent in the
poorest districts of the country, that's serious stuff," he said. Palmer said
OAS members would have difficulty reaching a consensus on imposing serious
sanctions against Fujimori's government. "I don't think it would come to
that," he said. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
"I will see my own blood flow before you take my land or my liberty." -Zach De
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