With just three months left before Peru chooses its next president, critics are already questioning the fairness of the April 9 elections.
President Alberto Fujimori is seeking an unprecedented third consecutive term in the presidential palace. And not everyone is happy about it, since Peru's 1993 Constitution allows for only two consecutive terms.
"Fujimori's candidacy is the start of electoral fraud, says Bethsabe Andina. "The fact that his candidacy has been approved violates the Constitution and the rule of law." She and some 5,000 other protesters took to Lima's streets last week - angered that the National Electoral Board seemingly ignored the law by approving Fujimori's candidacy.
Until Monday, speculation was rife that Mr. Fujimori's ex-wife, former first lady Susana Higuchi, would run against him. As it turns out, she will be running on an opposition- party ticket as a candidate for Congress. Ms. Higuchi intended to run in the 1995 elections, but Fujimori's congress passed a law making it illegal for presidential family members to run for office. Her 1996 divorce has made her congressional candidacy possible this year.
But even as criticism mounts and protesters take to the streets, Fujimori's popularity is rising - especially among the poor.
His government has taken over the food programs that reach the poorer sectors, in addition to implementing a flurry of small public works projects, such as roads and school construction. More importantly, these projects are closely associated with Fujimori himself who, unlike previous presidents, travels constantly to the sites of new projects.
"These works don't look like a state program, but as if they were a gift from the president," says political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi.
Fujimori's popularity also stems from his squashing of subversive groups in the early '90s, bringing an end to a decade of virtual civil war. He has also stabilized the economy. During his tenure as president inflation has gone from 7,000 percent to 3.6 percent. And he's credited for bringing about a peace accord which ended a half-century border conflict with Ecuador.
But critics maintain that Fujimori's accomplishments are at the expense of democratic development. In 1992 he staged a "self-coup" in which he suspended congress and rewrote the Constitution.
So successful has Fujimori's populist crusade been that Venezuela's Hugo Chvez has used him as an ideological role model. Analysts make the obvious link between the Peruvian leader and Mr Chvez's recent suspension of Congress and the judiciary and repenning of the Constitution.
"It is not like the people are stupid and don't know" about the government manipulation, comments political analyst Santiago Pedraglio. "The Peruvian people haven't found a solid alternative to Fujimori."
More recently critics have charged Fujimori's government with being behind the defamatory campaigns against his competitors and the harassment they have experienced on the campaign trail. Naysayers also assert that Fujimori is using state funds in his campaign and that he exerts control over the media.
The sentiment that Fujimori is usurping power and manipulating political processes is nothing new in Peru, however.
Mr. Pedraglio points out that today's maneuverings aren't that different from those of Fujimori back in 1992. He says, "The rule of law was put in question quite some time ago."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society