Democracy in Peru

IT was hard for Peruvians to say ''no'' when asked by President Alberto Fujimori if they were better off now than five years ago. Mr. Fujimori may have a strong authoritarian streak, but he clearly also has a knack for populist politics.

He has a strong record on the economy too. During five years in office, Fujimori has cranked inflation down from 7,650 percent to a relatively manageable 15.4 percent. He also engineered a growth spurt in Peru. Its 12 percent economic growth last year was the world's highest.

The questions now, as Fujimori heads into a second five-year term are twofold: Will he make good on repeated, if ambivalent, promises to lead his country toward real democracy? And now that a degree of economic stability has been achieved, will he meaningfully address the profound problems of poverty and joblessness?

Concerning democracy, the biggest cloud over Fujimori remains his 1992 dissolution of Peru's Congress, which showed a deep disregard for representative government. Under international pressure he reinstated Congress, and, ironically, his independent party now has won a majority in that body.

Fujimori supporters might argue the president had to be extraordinarily tough to subdue the vicious ''Shining Path'' insurgency. But neither his successful campaign against the guerrillas nor his economic measures required a silencing of opposition.

An effective and responsible opposition, in fact, is much needed in Peru to help Fujimori keep to a democratic path. Such an opposition was not evident during the campaign.

Last Sunday's election, however, was free of violence and relatively free of fraud. Ideally, Fujimori will build on his 64 percent victory by showing a new tolerance for diverse viewpoints and ideas. He'll require plenty of the latter to address the 85 percent unemployment and underemployment that burden Peru.

The president actively campaigned among his country's poor. As a fellow outsider and nonwhite, he has an affinity with them. Can he show the political maturity to address their needs through democratic means? That would be his greatest contribution to Peru's future.

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