- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Who would have thought that President Alberto Fujimori, who restored peace and prosperity to Peru, would relinquish leadership in such a cowardly way? Mr. Fujimori informed Peru by fax from Japan on Sunday that he was officially resigning. "I should be here for a long time," Mr. Fujimori said Tuesday at a news conference at the Tokyo hotel.

The president's abrupt and long-distance resignation has a certain comic element to it. Unfortunately, it was likely based on sinister calculations. Mr. Fujimori's ruling coalition lost control of Congress for the first time in eight years last week and the president could no longer count on obliging lawmakers to cover-up the misdeeds of his administration. So after Mr. Fujimori attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Brunei, he dropped in on Japan on Friday for an indefinite stay.

Mr. Fujimori has been unable to regain his footing after his ex-spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was caught on videotape in September offering a bribe to an opposition lawmaker. Mr. Montesinos was also implicated in an arms-for-drugs swap with Colombian guerrillas. In the wake of these scandals, Mr. Montesinos traveled to Panama, but was forced to return to Peru in October after Panama denied the ex-spy chief asylum. Mr. Montesinos has since been on the lam.

Now, Mr. Fujimori himself is the subject of a possible corruption scandal. The Peruvian press has reported that the president may have used a stop in Singapore to transfer millions of dollars to Japanese bank accounts. These rumors indicated that the president may be fleeing likely prosecution in Peru.

Peru's constitution dictates that the next in line to rule the country after the president's resignation would be the vice president. But the first of Peru's two vice presidents, Francisco Tudela, resigned to protest Mr. Montesinos' return to Peru in October. Peru's second vice president, Ricardo Marquez, was pressured by the opposition to leave the post to the leader of the Congress, Valentin Paniagua.

Peru's democracy appears to be withstanding this political turmoil. Mr. Fujimori's legacy, on the other hand, has been indelibly bruised. The president achieved the near impossible by vanquishing brutal and powerful terrorists and taming hyperinflation and economic chaos. He will now be remembered as the president who ran away.

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