- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

LIMA, Peru Alberto Fujimori, Peru's autocratic president, has won an unprecedented third term in an election questioned at home and abroad. Now he faces the challenge of weathering the domestic turmoil and international isolation that could befall Peru.
Yesterday a day after a runoff election that saw a boycott by the only challenger and clashes between demonstrators and riot police the U.S. State Department called the vote invalid.
Foreign monitors had wanted to delay the runoff to evaluate new computer software for tabulating votes. During the April 9 first-round election, officials could not satisfactorily explain how the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of voters by more than 1.4 million.
"No president emerging from such a flawed process can claim legitimacy," the State Department said in a statement. "The manner in which the Fujimori regime handled this problem is a serious threat to the inter-American system and its commitment to democracy."
But the 61-year-old Fujimori, known for his cunning and patience, has had his back to the wall before and has always survived.
Analysts agreed that after his flawed victory Sunday over challenger Alejandro Toledo, the legitimacy of his government is in doubt. But most do not expect the international community to impose severe sanctions against Peru.
"Everyone is just waiting to see if all the tough talk is going to be matched by any real pain, and the only real pain would come in the form of economic sanctions," said Catherine Conaghan, an expert on Peru at Canada's Queens University who was in Lima studying developments.
Even the United States, viewed as the country most likely to take strong measures to punish Peru, has to weigh other factors.
Peru is a key player in the anti-cocaine war in the Andes, and Fujimori has been successful over the past five years in cutting the output of coca leaves, the raw material for cocaine, in half. Also, any measures aimed at destabilizing Fujimori's government could have unforeseen consequences in the Andean region, where Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador all pose security problems.
Speaking with foreign journalists ahead of Sunday's election, Fujimori made a point of mentioning his good relations with the United States in the drug war.
"He's sort of laughing in everyone's face," Conaghan said. "When he was asked last week about economic sanctions, he said something like, 'What kind of economic sanctions are they going to level against a country that's been judged to be very cooperative and successful on the drug effort?"'
In an interview after Fujimori's lopsided victory, Franciso Tudela, his running mate, said there would be no serious consequences even if Washington imposed economic sanctions. He said Peru had refinanced its foreign debt successfully, routinely purchases arms from European nations rather the United States and is willing to carry on the drug war without U.S. help if it comes to that.
If the United States imposes sanctions, he said, "the apocalypse that some predict is not going to occur."
Strong action is even less likely from Peru's neighbors. Eduardo Stein, chief of election monitors sent by the Organization of American States, told The Associated Press before he left Lima that he thought it would be difficult for OAS member states to agree on any sanctions.
With 89 percent of the ballots counted yesterday, Fujimori had 50.9 percent to Toledo's 17.1 percent. Another 30.9 percent of the ballots were spoiled.
Toledo had boycotted the vote, saying the outcome was already rigged, and he urged voters to void their ballots. Foreign monitors withdrew before the election after warning that a fair vote could not be guaranteed.
Some analysts have doubts that Toledo who has no organized party and surged into second place only in the closing weeks before the April 9 first round will be able to keep up the pressure on Fujimori's government. Piero Ghezzi, a Peruvian financial analyst at Deutsche Bank in New York City, predicted Toledo will quickly fade, as did Fujimori's main opponents in 1990 and 1995.
And despite large street protests Sunday against Fujimori's victory, many Peruvians seemed resigned to his re-election. For months, polls have shown that a majority of Peruvians have believed all along that he would remain in power, by hook or crook if necessary.
Mauro Velasquez, a 52-year-old waiter, said he had no interest in taking part in street protests called by Toledo to challenge the outcome.
"All we can do is just keep working at our jobs. What other alternative do we have?" he said. "Fujimori will remain as president no matter what we do."

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