Peru's Fujimori: How to Follow a Tough Act


ON JULY 28, Alberto Fujimori will be sworn into office for a second consecutive term as president of Peru. Overwhelmingly reelected last April, this son of Japanese immigrants did not even require the customary second round to win another five years in Lima's government palace. Analysts view the victory as a popular ''thank you'' to Fujimori for ridding the Andean nation of hyperinflation and terrorism - legacies of the corrupt and inept 1980s.

Mr. Fujimori's new challenges are equally daunting, but they are also particularly unsuited to the president's famous no-holds-barred approach to governance.

Though they required strong political will and a good dose of courage, Fujimori's first-term goals of economic stabilization and liberalization were essentially accomplished with a few strokes of a pen. The arduous task now awaiting is that of spreading the benefits of orthodox economics to the mass of Peruvians, most of whom still live in poverty, either unemployed or underemployed.

The jobs, social services, and basic infrastructure Peruvians desperately need will not all miraculously materialize from the nation's private sector. After five years of tearing down the state via privatization and deregulation, Fujimori must now rebuild it, making it more agile and productive than before.

In the name of sacrifice

How will the president get the job done this time? Fujimori's achievements from 1990 to '95 came with obvious sacrifices, the most glaring of which was the deterioration of Peru's democratic institutions. Citing the need to make the country ''safe for democracy,'' the president and the armed forces shut down Congress and the judiciary in April 1992, concentrating virtually all the state power in the executive. Severely criticized abroad, this course of action was applauded at home. Vindication came soon, in the form of a remarkable economic turnaround and the even more remarkable capture of the Shining Path leadership by government intelligence agents.

With a new Congress in 1992 and a new constitution in 1993 - approved via a national referendum - both Peru and Fujimori regained a measure of acceptance in the international community.

Previous successes notwithstanding, Fujimori's authoritarian spurts will be domestically unacceptable in the coming term. The country's dire political and socio-economic conditions made them tolerable (even welcome) during the first five years. But the new yardstick is not the chaos of the 1980s, but the relative stability of 1995. Hyperinflation has disappeared, economic growth is soaring, and the guerrilla groups have been largely stamped out.

The clearest harbinger of this political shift is the popular reaction to the controversial amnesty law passed by Fujimori's congressional majority in June. This legislation grants amnesty to military officers who were in jail or exile because of their political opposition activities. The amnesty, however, also covered officers already tried and condemned for homicide in the 1992 La Cantuta killings. Under pressure from sectors of the armed forces, Fujimori has invoked notions of national reconciliation, attempting to persuade the nation that the amnesty merely signifies ''to forget, not to forgive.''

Pressure on human rights

Peruvians are clearly reluctant to do either. Polls show that 77 percent of the population opposes amnesty. Human rights groups are collecting signatures to organize a national referendum that could repeal the law.

On June 23, Lima witnessed a massive protest march by University students, labor unions, and political opposition leaders. Fujimori's approval ratings have taken a modest but significant dip. The message is clear: Impunity is no longer fashionable in Peru.

For a successful second term, Fujimori must radically alter his leadership style. Instances such as the amnesty - as well as 1994's ''Cantuta Law'' allowing the officers in question to be tried by military rather than civilian tribunals - cannot be repeated. To the contrary, the president must strengthen Peru's beleaguered democratic institutions, both in Lima and at the local level. Only in this way can he truly spread the benefits of his difficult economic reforms (as promised during his campaign), and at the same time consolidate his credibility as a truly democratic president.

Basking in his electoral triumph, Fujimori might not recognize the changing political winds. But unless he does so, the president will eventually discover that both history and the Peruvian people will neither forgive nor forget him.

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