Democratic boost expected from Peru president elections


LIMA, AFP

Leading candidates and electoral observers said Friday Peru’s upcoming presidential election should set the country firmly back on the democratic track, in contrast with last year’s “fraudulent” vote that gave the now ousted president Alberto Fujimori a third term in office.

“Clearly this is the opportunity for the people of Peru to have democracy reinstated,” U.S. ex-president Jimmy Carter said at a news conference.

Like other international observers, Carter said he expected Sunday’s election to be free and fair and contrasted this with last year’s elections.

“It is obvious that the process under which the then president Fujimori was elected was completely fraudulent,” said Carter, who had observed the first round of voting last year, but stayed away from the second round, citing severe shortcomings.

Fujimori was ousted in November at the height of a cash-for-favors scandal, and has lived in Japan since.

U.S.-educated economist Alejandro Toledo, who lost to Fujimori last year but whose fiery protests eventually contributed to his rival’s political demise, is the favorite this time around, though opinion polls suggest he is unlikely to win outright on Sunday.

And, with conservative former lawmaker Lourdes Flores and controversial ex-president Alan Garcia running neck-and-neck for second place, it remains unclear who would face Toledo in a run-off election.

Both Flores and Garcia said they were confident Peru faced a democratic future after a decade of authoritarian government by Fujimori.

“It is time to demonstrate democracy is the way to solve our problems,” Flores said at a news conference.

Garcia, for his part, said Peru would remain firmly on the democratic track it has followed since former opposition figure Valentin Paniagua formed an interim government after Fujimori’s ouster.

Campaigning ahead of Sunday’s elections was largely overshadowed by a string of cash-for-favors scandals involving Fujimori and his now equally disgraced ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos.

The leading candidates have expressed support for a demand by the interim government of Valentin Paniagua for Japan to extradite Fujimori.

“Japan should “take into account our request for the extradition of Fujimori and our reasons for making it,” Garcia said at a news conference on Friday.

While he too has had to battle past scandals, Garcia made an astonishing comeback, his popularity rating rising rapidly since his return from nine years of exile in January.

He has fought hard to clean up an image tarnished by now-lapsed corruption charges and by the deep economic crisis that beset the South American country at the end of his 1985-1990 term.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, he said that while Peru, like other Latin American countries, had faced economic difficulties at the time, these were exaggerated by Fujimori and Montesinos.

“We had inflation but people were better fed than they are now, education was free and health services were better,” he said.

All three leading candidates have pledged more jobs and economic improvements, though Garcia went one step further, saying his government would step in to correct free market excesses.

The more than 14 million eligible voters also will be called upon to elect Peru’s 120 lawmakers. Opinion polls indicate Toledo’s center-left Peru Possible party would get the most mandates, between 40 and 53, but would fall short of an absolute majority in the unicameral Congress.