- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

The most remarkable aspect of Perus election on Sunday was how nondramatic it was. After having been buffeted by a series of political scandals, Peruvians voted for a new president for the first time since their former leader, Alberto Fujimori, fled the country in corruption-related disgrace in November. Mr. Fujimori continues to be exiled in Japan, but his ghost figured prominently in the election, spoiling the prospects for Lourdes Flores, a center-right congresswoman candidate.

Harvard-trained economist Alejandro Toledo won about 36 percent of the vote with just over 57 percent of the ballots counted, according to the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE). Mr. Toledo´s party, Peru Possible, won about 40 percent of the 120 seats in Congress, prompting concerns about a fragmented legislature. Former President Alan Garcia made a surprise showing on Sunday, garnering about 26 percent of the vote. Mr. Garcia, a charismatic speaker who is rebounding from corruption scandals of his own, promised Peru lower utility bills, more jobs and aid for farmers. But many voters remained wary of his promises. Hyperinflation, food shortages, proliferation of brutal guerrillas and a debt crisis characterized his tenure as Peru´s president from 1985 to 1990.

In light of this undistinguished history, it is surprising that Mrs. Flores came in third in the election, with about 24 percent of the vote. By her own admission, Mrs. Flores had little chance after she was labeled a "Fujimorismo," or disciple of the former president.

Mr. Fujimori, while escaping any type of prosecution himself, seems to have indefinitely spoiled Peru´s appetite for pro-market, conservative policies. Although Mr. Fujimori made some extraordinary contributions while president, the corruption, assault on the freedom of the press, lack of judicial fairness and brutality that thrived under his rule have overshadowed his legacy.

So Peru was much more receptive to Mr. Toledo´s center-left message. The candidate has mixed some populist rhetoric with some economically liberal proposals, such as jump-starting the economy through tax cuts and a more dynamic export sector and a promise to create 500,000 new jobs. Still, Mr. Toledo has failed to detail just what his agenda will be. Accusations that he tested positive for cocaine during an alleged 1998 sex-and-drugs binge raise concerns, especially in a country where cocaine is so closely linked to public corruption, guerrilla activity and persecution of rural communities.

It is a shame that Peru appears ready to forfeit the opportunity to put a conservative woman into office. Far more important than the triumph of any one candidate in one election, however, is the reaffirmation of democracy in Peru.

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