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Still wanted in Peru, Alberto Fujimori runs for office in Japan

Peru's former leader is competing in Japan's parliamentary vote Sunday ... from house arrest in Chile.

By Yuriko NaganoCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 25, 2007



TOKYO

For most politicians, fame is an asset. But it's yet to be seen whether it will help Alberto Kenya Fujimori win a seat in Japan's Upper House on Sunday.

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Mr. Fujimori reserves the distinction of being Japan's only Upper House candidate to conduct his campaign while under house arrest. He is the only candidate to have previously been elected president of a foreign nation. He is also the only aspiring member of the Upper House to have been indicted on more than 20 counts of corruption and human rights violations, including sanctioning death squads – charges he denies.

Fujimori was arrested in Chile in 2005, where he still lives under house arrest, awaiting possible extradition to Peru, the country he ruled from 1990 to 2000. [Editor's note: The original version omitted the word "possible."]

His critics accuse him of running for office in Japan to avoid his outstanding charges in Peru, but many Japanese voters don't even know he's running.

"If elected, he must really want to accomplish something here [to run in such a condition]," says resident Ako Nakatsu on a recent day in Tokyo's lively Shibuya district.

On his website, Fujimori vows to help Japan's counterterrorism efforts, resolve Japan's abduction issue with North Korea, and aid Japan in building friendly relations with Latin American countries.

"Politicians in Japan are all amateurs," says resident Hiroshi Kato, adding that Japan would benefit from Fujimori's strong Latin America ties. "We need experienced politicians like Fujimori."

WHAT'S hard for some here to believe, however, is that Fujimori's bid is legal.

Fujimori is a citizen of both Japan and Peru, even though dual citizenship typically is prohibited in Japan. Shizuka Kamei, acting leader of Fujimori's People's New Party, says Fujimori's Japanese residency is intact because he left using a Japanese passport and is technically "traveling in Chile." The government of Japan denies giving Fujimori any special treatment.

Even Fujimori's harshest critics say it's possible that he could win a seat in Sunday's vote. "Japanese view Fujimori as a celebrity-type politician," says Kazuo Ohgushi, professor of Latin American politics at the University of Tokyo and organizer for human rights group Japan Network for Bringing Fujimori to Justice. "People think he's interesting, someone who has humor."

But Fujimori himself is dead serious about getting elected.

"Fujimori must have felt like a drowning man clutching at a straw to run in this election," says Yusuke Murakami, associate professor at the Center for Integrated Area Studies at Kyoto University.

Mr. Murakami says Fujimori is running because of his need to be in a position of power.

Fujimori has been away from politics for more than five years. "I think his pragmatic personality drove him to take a chance in Japan where he thinks he can be useful," he says.

For his part, Fujimori is hoping the government of Japan influences Chile for his release. As election day approaches, Fujimori's celebrity pals such as Dewi Sukarno, former wife of Indonesian President Sukarno, are campaigning for him, calling Fujimori the "Last Samurai."

As a direct message to voters, Fujimori delivers a short speech on his website in not-so-smooth Japanese from what looks like the backyard of a sunny villa.

With a relaxed smile, he says: "I will vow to fight for ... the country of the samurai with my life."

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