CANDIDATES backed by President Alberto Fujimori are likely to secure an overwhelming majority in elections, scheduled for Nov. 22, to a "Democratic Constituent Con-gress" that will draft a new constitution for Peru.
The decision of Peru's two main political parties not to participate in the elections has opened the door for candidates backed by Mr. Fujimori, whose popularity rating has soared 14 points following the spectacular Sept. 12 capture of Abimael Guzman Reynoso, the long-hunted guerrilla leader of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).
A poll published Sept. 20 by the Lima-based research group Apoyo gives Fujimori a healthy 74 percent level of support - though this is still below the 80 percent he scored immediately after his Army-backed move on April 5 to dissolve Congress and suspend the Constitution.
"It seems odd that netting the country's No. 1 criminal didn't push him higher still," comments Apoyo's Augusto Alvarez. "A possible explanation is that people see Guzms capture primarily as a success for the police."
But the 14-point ratings boost comes at an ideal time. The deadline for registration of candidates for November's elections is Oct. 8. The new congress will write a new constitution as well as exercise legislative powers.
Peru's two major established parties - former President Alan Garcia Perez's American Popular Revolutionary Alliance and two-time President Fernando Belaunde Terry's Popular Action party - are not participating; they consider Fujimori's bid to create a new legislative structure following his dissolution of the national congress to be illegitimate. Novelist and 1990 presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa's Libertad Movement also has refused to have anything to do with "a congress whose hands will be ti ed."
Under the controversial new electoral law decreed by the Fujimori government in August (and modified within days), only parties that gained more than 5 percent of all votes cast last time around, in 1990, are automatically qualified to put forward their list of 80 candidates.
The rule effectively marginalizes Peru's left, which has splintered into myriad individual groups.
They managed to unite into two major fronts for 1990 winning around 12 percent of the popular vote. But they fall far short of the average 5 percent apiece demanded by the new legislation and must now collect 100,000 supporters' signatures by the first week in October. Most, with funds low and economic recession still biting hard, are expected to fail.
To add to the pre-electoral confusion, more than 90 "independents" have jumped onto the constituent congress bandwagon and are also canvassing for their necessary 100,000 signatures.
Their embryonic "parties" have confusingly similar names - "independent," "democratic," "national," "movement," and "front" are everywhere. Hastily designed logos to increase marketability include a baseball bat (for the youth party) and a cooking pot on a fire.
Opinion polls show, much as they did in the run-up to the 1990 presidential elections that gave Fujimori such a spectacular and resounding victory over Mr. Vargas Llosa, that Peruvians are tired of their traditional parties. More than half say they will vote for "independents."
The ever-astute Fujimori is taking full advantage of this overriding popular sentiment. One member of his Cabinet, Mines and Energy Minister Jaime Yoshiyama, also formerly head of the privatization commission, has resigned in order to head an "independent" list - optimistically called "New Majority." His running mates will be "technocrats who are in sympathy with the government," he says.
Fujimori plans to back at least three lists, making a large congressional majority virtually certain.
On a weekend visit to a Lima shantytown to inaugurate a government-funded electricity generator, the president campaigned unashamedly on behalf of Yoshiyama, who stuck beside him throughout.
Fujimori will also lend his backing to a Change 90 list - it is the party he created for the 1990 presidential elections - and yet another headed by former Premier Carlos Torres y Torres Lara.
"The way things are going, there's going to be no opposition to speak of in the new congress," commented one Western diplomat in Lima. "Mr. Fujimori is going to have it all his own way."
The prospect of a congress full of Fujimori yes-men is causing some international unease. Outgoing United StatesAmbassador Anthony Quainton has expressed his government's disquiet at the marginalization of the left, the projected absence of parliamentary immunity, and certain limitations on the future constituent congress's power.
Congressmen, for example, will be unable to revoke any decrees published by the current "government of emergency and national reconstruction."
But observers in Lima suspect that the international community as a whole is likely to view even imperfect elections - and the consequent resumption of full diplomatic and financial relations - with relief.
On the crest of yet another popularity wave, for the moment Fujimori looks unstoppable.