Grateful Peruvians Give Fujimori a Lopsided Win

PERU'S President Alberto Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, obtained a landslide victory in elections Sunday to become the first Peruvian head of state in 67 years to win a consecutive term.

A self-confessed authoritarian and committed pragmatist, Mr. Fujimori is unlikely to abandon the autocratic style of government that led him to close congress in April 1992 and suspend and rewrite the Constitution. He says reelection has made him more committed than ever to the achievement of ''true democracy with social justice ... but with efficiency. That efficiency can do without political parties,'' he says.

Congresswoman Lourdes Flores Nano, an opposition leader, says Sunday's results underlined the crisis of Peru's ''traditional'' parties and the preferences of the disenchanted voters for ''technocrats'' and ''political independents.''

''But reelecting Mr. Fujimori, who is individualism in its most extreme expression, is no guarantee of stability,'' she warns. ''The task facing Peru is to build solid and democratic institutions.''

Preliminary results from the National Electoral Board (JNE) gave the incumbent 65 percent of all valid votes cast. His closest challenger, former United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, won 22 percent. None of the other 12 presidential candidates obtained even 5 percent apiece.

''It's such a high vote, it's taken even me by surprise,'' admitted a jubilant Fujimori Sunday at a news conference with foreign journalists. In reelecting him, the Peruvian people had ''chosen the path of order, discipline, and progress,'' he said.

Opinion polls had predicted for several weeks that Fujimori's popularity -- consistently and unusually high ever since he came from nowhere to snatch the presidency in 1990 -- would assure him the 50 percent clearly needed to avoid a second-round runoff. Few predicted the margin of victory would be so wide or that his loosely organized ruling alliance would obtain an overall majority in congress.

''The opposition never managed to get their act together,'' commented Manuel Torrado of the polling agency Datum. ''They worked like mad in the last couple of weeks, but it was already too late to make inroads on Fujimori's track record.''

One urgent demand that will test Fujimori in coming years is the creation of jobs. Almost half of Peru's 23 million inhabitants still live in poverty, six million of them unable to cover their basic nutritional requirements. Less than 10 percent of the population has adequate employment.

''The greatest threat to the second Fujimori government will come if social problems like joblessness go unattended,'' warns economist Augusto Alvarez. ''If some corrections aren't made, there could be strong pressure to depart from the currently successful economic program within a year or two.''

His record is impressive. Over the past five years, he has slashed inflation -- from over 7,000 percent in 1990 to 15.4 percent last year. For 1995, the International Monetary Fund-agreed target is single-digit inflation, something Peru has not seen for decades.

The Fujimori government has also renewed ties with the international financial community. The economy is now awash in fresh credits for road and infrastructure repair. Tax collection is sharply higher, and new schools and health centers are mushrooming.

Peru's gross domestic product expanded 12.7 percent last year, making it the fastest-growing economy in the world. This year's growth will be between 5 percent and 8 percent.

''President Fujimori had the guts to embark on a harsh stabilization program and the deregulation and liberalization of the economy,'' says a Western diplomat in Lima. ''But the real key to lasting success has been the virtual defeat of the Sendero Luminoso'' (Shining Path) guerrillas.

The Maoist movement that vowed to destroy the Peruvian state -- and briefly looked as if it might succeed -- appears to be in its death throes. For the first time in 15 years, Sunday's elections were not disrupted by violence.

The elections were not without incident, however. Just hours before polling commenced, a complex fraud plan was uncovered in the central Andean town of Huanuco. It involved the attempt to forge more than half-a-million ballots.

By late Sunday night, however, the electoral process had been declared clean and fair by observers from the Organisation of American States and a local citizen group Transparencia, which, for the first time in Peruvian electoral history, trained and deployed over 9,000 observers at polling stations.

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