- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Peru is two days away from international rebuke. Flouting a recommendation by the Organization of American States, the country's National Electoral Tribunal announced Thursday that it will hold the presidential election as originally planned on Sunday. The OAS had suggested Peru postpone the vote for 10 days to iron out computer and other irregularities and has strongly hinted it won't endorse the vote if it isn't delayed.

President Alberto Fujimori's challenger in the election, Alejandro Toledo, has said he won't run in the election if the date isn't pushed back. With only one candidate in the race and no OAS endorsement, the international community will likely deem the election illegitimate. If the world does not recognize the election's validity, Peru could face economic and political sanctions from the United States and other countries. This could prompt investors to withdraw from Peru and agencies to downgrade Peru's credit rating. These factors would reverse the economic strides the country has made under Mr. Fujimori and push Peru into an economic tailspin.

The United States must take the lead in trying to prevent this from happening. In the first round of voting held on April 9, it is quite likely that pressure from the White House, Congress and organizations like the OAS prevented Mr. Fujimori from fudging the 0.13 points he needed to score the 50 percent majority required to avoid a runoff. Mr. Toledo won about 40 percent of the vote in that round. Now the White House will likely have to threaten Peru with sanctions in order to convince Mr. Fujimori to postpone the election.

It is a shame that Mr. Fujimori hasn't seen fit to leave office gracefully. In his zeal to quiet detractors and perpetuate his rule, he has marred what would otherwise be an accomplished tenure. During his mandate, he has earned higher poll ratings than any other Peruvian head of state. Mr. Fujimori restored law and order in a country traumatized for years by powerful and extremely violent rebel forces. The president's aggressive economic liberalization program spurred the highest economic growth rate in Latin America in the mid-1990s, although more recently growth has stagnated.

On the other hand, Mr. Fujimori's heavy-handed tactics won him the nickname "the emperor." In 1992, Mr. Fujimori ordered tanks into the streets and closed down the Peruvian congress and the courts. In 1997, he had judges on Peru's Constitutional Court fired after they voted he couldn't run for a third term. In addition, intelligence agents target his critics and, perhaps for this reason, the media is heavily biased in Mr. Fujimori's favor.

But given the turbulence in some of Peru's Andean neighbors, the United States and other governments are loathe to make an enemy out of Mr. Fujimori, who rules an oasis of stability, relative to Colombia and Ecuador. All the same, the United States can't stand by while he tramples the democratic rights of the Peruvian people. The White House must immediately detail for Mr. Fujimori the consequences of "winning" a phony election. For the sake of international friendships and the Peruvian people, Mr. Fujimori should hold an election that is up to international standards.

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