Toledo rejects Peru's election as done deal

Opposition leader Alejandro Toledo and others plan anti-Fujimori protest July 26.

Alberto Fujimori may have been declared the winner of Peru's May 28 presidential election, but for opposition leader and ex-candidate Alejandro Toledo, the fight continues.

Since dropping out of the second-round election, Mr. Toledo has met with leaders from Latin America, Europe, and the United States, peddling his message that the elections were fraudulent and that President Fujimori is a dictator in disguise. Is anyone still listening?

The United States has backed down from its original assessment of the elections as invalid, and has adopted a wait-and-see attitude regarding a possible revision of US-Peruvian relations. The Organization of American States (OAS) decided against levying sanctions for undemocratic conduct, in favor of sending a high-level diplomatic mission to the country to explore ways of strengthening democracy in Peru.

But within the South American nation itself, nearly half the population rejects Fujimori's government as illegitimate and looks to Toledo as the political leader capable of heading up the opposition.

Criticisms of political inexperience and ambiguity aside, Toledo is nevertheless the most significant leader the Peruvian opposition has produced since Fujimori's "self-coup" of 1992.

"Toledo continues to play an extremely important role in Peru's political arena," says Fernando Rospigliosi, an analyst with Caretas, Peru's leading news magazine. "There are some observers who say that his 15 minutes of fame are over, but Toledo remains the leader of the opposition, for the time being at least."

Since Stanford-educated Toledo emerged as a significant rival to Fujimori in March, he has undergone significant political maturation. He quickly abandoned the red headband with which he greeted demonstrators after the first election round in favor of a more measured image and has learned to couch all calls for popular protest within the context of peaceful resistance.

But he continues to be criticized for lack of a coherent message and for off-the-cuff remarks that expose his political inexperience. Toledo's last-minute decision not to participate in the second-round election was fraught with ambiguities, while subsequent demands flip-flopped between calls for a "third round," a transitional government, and new elections entirely.

"Toledo emerged as a vehicle to oust [Fujimori]. He was the candidate people utilized for this objective," says Fernando Tuesta, a Lima political analyst. "Now, he is the leader of the opposition. He might not be the ideal leader, but that's another matter."

Now, however, Toledo appears to have nailed down his message and is sticking to his demand for new elections as the only way out of Peru's political crisis. Scores of civil-society groups and a large segment of the population at large are backing his demand. More than 50 nongovernmental organizations, unions, and regional citizens groups sent a letter to the OAS mission calling for new elections and pledging to "persist in the struggle of democratic resistance led by Dr. Toledo."

The OAS mission, led by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, arrived in Lima June 27 as police clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators outside the hotel where mission delegates were staying.

Before arriving, Mr. Axworthy indicated that his team will not address calls for new elections in order to concentrate on ways to reform Peru's electoral process, strengthen democratic institutions, and ensure freedom of the press.

The drizzling rain typical of a Lima winter didn't prevent thousands of protesters from attending a rally called by Toledo after his meeting with OAS mission members. Students, workers, and ordinary citizens filled Lima's Plaza San Martin, demanding new elections and a return to democracy in Peru. "The challenge for Toledo is to maintain people's level of politicization, while finding other forms of protest besides street demonstrations. People have their limits," says analyst Alberto Adrianzen.

Observers do not dismiss the possibility that new elections may ultimately be the only solution for the deeply divided country.

"Over the next months, Toledo will keep agitating for new elections, using the term as a propagandistic watchword until the moment of crisis arrives," says Mr. Tuesta, the political analyst.

Toledo and other sectors of the opposition have organized a March of the Four Suyos (or regions of the Inca empire) for July 26, two days before Fujimori is to be sworn in as president. Toledo has said the goal of the march is to amass 4 million people in Lima.

Mr. Rospigliosi, from the news magazine, says the March of the Four Suyos is important because it will be an indication of the opposition's strength and "will show whether people are still disposed to fight or whether they have resigned themselves to another five years of Fujimori."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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