Peru held its first round of presidential elections last weekend as the country begins to emerge from the shambles bequeathed by former President Alberto Fujimori. With left-of-center front-runner Alejandro Toledo unable to claim outright victory, a second round will be held in either May or June.

Peruvians are practiced voters. A year ago, they went to the polls and Mr. Fujimori won a third term in an election that was widely condemned as fraudulent. When Mr. Vladimiro Montesinos, his shadowy intelligence chief and right-hand man, was shown bribing opposition politicians on national television, Mr. Fujimori was forced to step down.

Mr. Toledo, who claims to have won last year’s vote, was a favorite to win this election as well. He did, but Mr. Alan Garcia, who virtually ran the country into the ground during his presidency from 1985-1990, returned from nine years of exile in Colombia to deny Mr. Toledo an outright victory.

The campaign itself was a mean-spirited contest. Mr. Toledo was tarred with charges of fathering an illegitimate child and with using drugs. He claims he was drugged, and asserts that both allegations were an attempt to discredit him and keep a “cholo” — a mixed-race Peruvian — from being elected.

Although the campaign was nasty, the balloting was free from fraud. Independent observers called the vote well-run, clean and peaceful. As both sides prepare for the summer runoff, the dirt will fly and the deal-making between parties and candidates will intensify.

Whoever wins the second vote will have much to do. The first task is cleansing the body politic of the stains left by Mr. Montesinos. His vast library of tapes recording bribes and deals is still capable of destroying careers. Japan, which forged a special relationship with Mr. Fujimori, should play a key role in helping the country deal with the dangerous legacy. Our concern with Peru did not end with the Fujimori presidency.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.