Peru’s president, Mr. Alberto Fujimori, was sworn in to begin his third term Friday. It was a bittersweet occasion for the president. The festivities were marred by massive protests against an election tainted by charges of fraud. Mr. Fujimori, a combative man who never backs down from a challenge, has made gestures toward the opposition, but he has shown little inclination to embrace reforms that would soften his authoritarian rule and move Peru toward genuine democracy.
Calling Mr. Fujimori’s government “illegitimate,” the opposition organized the biggest street demonstration in 25 years. The marches began on Wednesday and were scheduled to peak Friday at the president’s inauguration. The protests stem from the May 28 runoff election that was boycotted by opposition leader Alejandro Toledo. Mr. Toledo refused to participate in the vote, claiming that it was rigged. The runoff was held as scheduled, and Mr. Fujimori won. Peru has been sharply divided ever since.
The opposition is not alone in harboring doubts about the election. International monitors criticized the electoral process, citing a strong media bias, vote-counting irregularities and the use of government funds in Mr. Fujimori’s election campaign.
Most of Latin America and much of the world have turned decidedly cool toward Mr. Fujimori. Only two presidents were to attend the inauguration and their democratic credentials are shaky. They are President Gustavo Noboa of Ecuador, who took office in a military coup, and President Hugo Banzer of Bolivia, who is a former dictator.
Even the Organization of American States, which is extremely sensitive to charges of interference in the domestic affairs of member states, has expressed concern about the election and about Mr. Fujimori’s administration. An OAS team has pressed the government to undertake reforms that could lead to negotiations with the opposition. The organization wants Mr. Fujimori to ensure that the media and the judiciary are independent. As one measure, the OAS wants the president to reinstate three Constitutional Tribunal judges who were dismissed after ruling that Mr. Fujimori could not, under the constitution, run for a third term.
In addition, there are concerns about the intelligence service and its head, Mr. Vladimiro Montesinos, who seems to exercise great power behind the scenes. Not surprisingly, the country’s human-rights record is under scrutiny. Peru last year withdrew from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Mr. Fujimori has given no indication that it will be returning anytime soon.
Peru is divided, but Mr. Fujimori can govern. Despite the growing opposition to his rule, he still enjoys considerable popularity. Many Peruvians see him as a strong leader who suppressed leftist rebels and revived the economy. Even though his supporters won only 52 seats in the nation’s 120-seat Parliament in elections held earlier this year, a stream of defectors from opposition parties has given him a comfortable majority. Charges of payoffs to win over legislators have been made.
Mr. Fujimori is also strengthened by divisions within the opposition. Mr. Toledo stands at the head of the 250,000 demonstrators who have taken to the streets, but they are not all solidly behind him. Opposition to Mr. Fujimori does not necessarily equate with support for Mr. Toledo. That gives the president an opening — if he wants to take it.
This past week, he made one gesture. Mr. Fujimori appointed another opposition leader, the respected moderate Federico Salas, as prime minister. Mr. Salas lost in the first round of April’s presidential vote. It is a symbolic move, but just barely: Mr. Salas’ new position has almost no power, although Mr. Fujimori has said that he would be in charge of job creation, a vital assignment in a country where half the population lives in poverty.
Mr. Fujimori can rule as long as he maintains the support of the military. Thus far, that is not in question. If Peru’s international isolation continues, however, he could lose that vital base. Genuinely mass protests could also convince the military that Mr. Fujimori’s touch has failed him. With 40,000 police on the streets of the capital to maintain order, and the palace gates electrified to prevent demonstrators from breaking in, Lima resembles a city under siege. If violence breaks out, and is forcibly repressed, the president would undo all the good he has accomplished. A return to democratic practices would serve Mr. Fujimori and Peru best. All friends of the country must continue to push Mr. Fujimori down that path.
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