- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

LIMA, Peru — A nation that has grown used to the idea of electing Alejandro Toledo as its first native Indian president on Sunday suddenly is facing a more startling prospect — an upset by once-disgraced former President Alan Garcia.
The charismatic Mr. Garcia, who left office after a five-year term in 1990 with the nation under siege from Marxist guerrillas and runaway inflation, has been moving up in the polls since scraping into a runoff against Mr. Toledo in April and goes into the weekend ballot trailing by as little as four percentage points.
It is startling that the man who presided over 7,500 percent annual inflation again could be within reach of the presidency. But a combination of soaring oratory, professions of repentance for his errors, and populist promises of jobs and cheaper utilities have had their effect.
Mr. Toledo remains a narrow favorite, buoyed by his image as the impoverished shoeshine boy who made his dreams come true by studying at Stanford University and becoming a World Bank executive.
He is credited with leading the charge to topple the decade-long regime of Alberto Fujimori. It was international charges of fraud in Mr. Fujimoris election defeat of Mr. Toledo a year ago that paved the way for the presidential downfall.
A bribery scandal involving Mr. Fujimoris former spy boss Vladimiro Montesinos completed the job. Mr. Fujimori now lives in Japanese exile while Mr. Montesinos is on the run and believed hiding in Venezuela or Colombia.
The scandals of Mr. Fujimoris government, documented by Mr. Montesinos on thousands of videotapes that continue to be aired by the Congress, along with mudslinging between Mr. Toledo and Mr. Garcia, have left the Peruvian electorate disenchanted by a contest that once was viewed as a triumphal return to democracy.
Giovanna Penaflor, of the local polling company Imasen, has held numerous focus group studies among voting sectors as Sundays second round approaches.
"When we have our focus groups, especially among the poorer sectors in Lima, the only thing certain is that the people are confused," Miss Penaflor said.
The electoral funk in Peru, where voting is mandatory, can be seen in the large numbers of voters who say they plan to intentionally spoil their ballots. About 20 percent of voters have told pollsters they will do so.
Sundays winner will have the unenviable task of restarting an economy that has been at a standstill for the past 18 months, with private investment lagging and many projects on hold.
Crippling debt also remains from Mr. Garcias presidency, limiting the options for public spending.
"Peruvians are not going to grant the new administration what is normally accorded to incoming governments by way of a four-, five-, six-month grace period," said Eduardo Stein, head of the Organization of American States observer team in Peru. "The second a winner is declared, there is a formidable list of demands that is going to be flashed."
The honeymoon has been used up by Perus transition government, headed by interim President Valentin Paniagua.
Mr. Paniagua and his "dream team" Cabinet, which includes former U.N. chief Javier Perez de Cuellar, has received high marks at home and abroad for working to dismantle the Fujimori-Montesinos regime and provide for free and fair elections.
The transition government also has proposed a truth commission to look into human-rights violations between 1980 and 2000 and a "table of dialogue" to help harmonize the goals of the next government. Among Peruvians is doubt that either will come about under Mr. Toledo or Mr. Garcia.
"Trust has been recuperated for the electoral process," Mr. Stein said, "but the regaining of trust of Peruvian society in their own institutions is something that will take quite a long time."


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