In most countries, a runoff ballot in a presidential election is unwelcome. It means the public is divided, and it delays the crucial business of putting together a government. In Peru’s case, news of a runoff is a positive sign. It means that President Alberto Fujimori is heeding the concerns of international observers who charged that last week’s vote was tainted.
With almost all the ballots counted, Mr. Fujimori claimed 49.84 percent of the valid votes and the election commission declared that he had no chance of crossing the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright win. His main rival, Mr. Alejandro Toledo, collected 40.31 percent of the vote.
The count was marred by controversy. It proceeded at a worryingly slow pace and there were allegations of irregularities. Even before the vote, the campaign was tainted by the discovery that many names on a petition supporting the president were fake. Opposition candidates faced death threats and other forms of intimidation, while the government used its control of the mass media to run a vicious smear campaign.
Those concerns forced observers to declare that a runoff would be needed to give the results legitimacy. Apparently, Mr. Fujimori, a stubborn man who brooks no opposition, is listening. The decision to hold the runoff, about six weeks from now, will also appease the opposition, which had threatened massive protests.
Mr. Fujimori is a controversial figure. He has shown himself ready to do whatever it takes to stay in power. But he is also popular, and enjoys the support of many Peruvians. There is a very good chance that he will win a runoff, even without rigging the ballot. The president has responded to the charges by saying he will tolerate no foreign interference in Peru’s internal affairs. He is right, but neither should he interfere with the workings of Peru’s democracy. Peru’s friends and allies should make it clear that any future relationship starts there.
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