ALBERTO FUJIMORI has just taken on one of the world's toughest jobs - the presidency of Peru. Inflation there has hovered around 3,500 percent for the past year, and gross national product has fallen by almost a quarter in the past two years. Half of Peru's people live in wrenching poverty. Mr. Fujimori triumphed in recent elections because he represented a break with the past. He, in fact, had no political past. Unlike novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, long the favorite, Fujimori wasn't identified with the privileged classes. Much of his support came from the poor.
As president, Fujimori immediately faces the necessity of adopting policies that will initially make life even worse for the poor. He campaigned on a pledge not to apply the ``shock'' economic programs advocated by Mr. Vargas Llosa. But talks with international bankers apparently convinced the new president that austerity policies are unavoidable. The country desperately needs the financial backing pinched off by the policies of former president Alan Garcia.
Peru will again start paying its foreign debt, Fujimori promises. It will also start collecting more taxes and phasing out subsidies.
The unanswered question, of course, is whether Fujimori, a man who personifies surprise, will buckle under Peru's towering problems or exhibit hidden reserves of leadership capability.
Most Peruvians recognize their untried new president is their best hope. Not even the Army wants to touch the reins of government under current conditions. On the other extreme lurks the Shining Path guerrillas, whose hold on large parts of the country seems to be tightening.
Fujimori has shown some pragmatism and ingenuity in piecing together a rather reluctant Cabinet from various corners of Peruvian politics. He'll need all the help he can get - including carefully thought-out aid from the United States - to lead his country toward a more stable future.