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After a campaign that grew progressively bitter, Alejandro Toledo was elected president of Peru, defeating former President Alan Garcia (1985-1990) in the June 3 runoff.

Fernando Tuesta, head of the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE), announced the final results on June 12, with Toledo of Peru Posible (PP) receiving 53.08% of the valid votes, while Garcia of the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) received 46.92%. The ONPE said 11.06% of the ballots were blank or null, despite opinion polls prior to the election that projected as many as 30% of voters might choose that option. About 19% of eligible voters stayed home, although voting is mandatory in Peru.

The Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) officially proclaimed Toledo the winner on June 13. His Peru Posible ticket includes Raul Diez Canseco Terry of Accion Popular (AP) as first vice president and David Waisman Rjavindthi of the PP as second vice president.

Toledo will begin his five-year term July 28. Congress recently extended by two days the mandate of interim President Valentin Paniagua, the former president of Congress, from July 26 when the congressional term ends to July 28.

In his brief stint as president, Paniagua has solidified a reputation for acting with integrity. He introduced anti- corruption initiatives and justice reforms and ensured a clean election to choose his replacement.

"This election was absolutely clean," said former Guatemalan foreign minister Eduardo Stein, head of the Organization of American States (OAS) observer mission. Stein praised Paniagua's transition government and the Peruvian people, saying they "have given us a lesson in internal reform."

Peru's year-long electoral process began when former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) won a third term last May in a vote widely seen as fraudulent. Fujimori was later pressured into calling new elections amid a corruption scandal, fled to Japan, and was replaced by a transition government headed by Paniagua (see NotiSur, 2000-12-08).

Despite the evidently clean elections, the nearly 20% absenteeism and the 11% blank and null ballots reflect the frustration of many voters with their choices.

When elected president in 1985, Garcia was a sign of hope for much of Latin America. By the time he left office in 1990, he was seen as heading a government marked by ineptitude, corruption, hyperinflation, and an inability to stem growing guerrilla terrorism.

Toledo, credited with laying the foundation for Fujimori's ouster, faced accusations in the press that he used cocaine, frequented hotels that cater to prostitutes, was involved in domestic violence, and misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations during his presidential bid last year. He refused to take a DNA test after a teenager claimed that he was her father.

"No one knows who is telling the truth and who is lying," said Giovanna Penaflor, head of the Imasen polling firm. "Toledo and Garcia have not re-established confidence in politics. There is only more confusion, creating a culture of cynicism."

As voters' cynicism grew, so did the calls for leaving the ballot blank. In the end, however, voters decided to give Toledo a chance.

Toledo calls for unity

At a massive rally after the initial returns were announced, Toledo told Peruvians he would not disappoint them, and he called on them to support a government of national unity.

In the campaigns, Toledo was often referred to as "the cholo from Harvard." In Peruvian Spanish, cholo refers to anyone of Indian descent. Indians make up 45% of Peru's 26 million people and 37% are of mixed Indian and Caucasian blood. No Indian or mestizo had ever been elected president, although several came to power through military coups.

Although he lost the election, Garcia was still a winner. Until a few months ago, his candidacy was considered hopeless, and his administration was blamed for many of the ills that befell Peru in the 1990s. When he first entered the race, political observers gave him no chance of capturing significant support. He is now a leading opposition figure.

"Four months ago, Garcia was the pariah of Peruvian politics. No politician wanted to have their photo taken with him," said political analyst Augusto Alvarez. "Today he's a star. He's the head of the opposition and a central player."

Toledo will face a divided Congress

The new president will not have a political honeymoon. Toledo's PP has the largest bloc in Congress with 45 representatives, but is far short of a majority in the 120-member legislature. Garcia's APRA has 28 seats, and the coalition that backed Lourdes Flores of the Partido Popular Cristiano (PPC) in the April 8 primary has 17 seats.

Since the election, however, Toledo has received the support of 11 deputies of the Frente Independiente Moralizador (FIM), three from Accion Popular (AP), four from Somos Peru (SP), and six from the Union por el Peru (UPP), which would give him control of 69 seats.

"That alliance would be stable as long as things were going well for him on the economic front," said analyst Santiago Pedraglio of the daily newspaper La Republica. "But if he is unable to deliver promptly on his promise of creating jobs, and if social unrest breaks out, some of them would likely break the pact."

Toledo has promised to create a million jobs, raise wages, boost agriculture, industry, and education, attract foreign investment, and control state finances. But the US$54 billion economy shrank 2.6% in the first quarter of 2001. The government has cut its 2001 growth forecast from between 2% and 3% to 1.5%, following 3.6% growth in 2000. But economists say even the new growth target will prove tough to achieve.

Official figures indicate 54.1% of the population lives in poverty, with 14.8% in extreme poverty, while 62 of every 100 adults lack full-time work. If they work, they work in the informal sector. Forty percent of the work force earns under US$170 a month. Per capita GDP is at 1970 levels, and debt servicing takes US$2.1 billion a year.

Toledo's vague program calls for doubling exports within an unspecified time and adopting slight tax reductions, which might boost consumption but would jeopardize already scarce tax revenues and weaken the chances of attracting foreign investment, say observers.

While Peruvians during Garcia's administration were battered by hyperinflation and during Fujimori's by political violence, "today, Toledo will face a new specter--unemployment," said sociologist Raul Serrano. "Since 1998, the recession triggered by the failure of the neoliberal model introduced by Fujimori has destroyed around one million jobs," he said, in a country where some 325,000 young people enter the labor market every year.

"Fujimori wanted us to board the train of modernity via the opening of the economy, but that did not bring development, and the only thing we obtained from globalization was a more acute foreign dependence and an accentuation of the most widespread fear, which is unemployment," said Serrano.

"If Toledo doesn't score a few goals in his first 100 days, things could really start to blow up," said political analyst Augusto Alvarez.

During his campaign, Toledo's aides and supporters enthusiastically chanted, "Pachacutec! Pachacutec!"--the name of a 15th-century Inca emperor.

"There is in Toledo an element of unpredictability," said political analyst Mirko Lauer. "The question is, will he have the kind of feedback that keeps him from believing he IS Pachacutec?" [Sources: The New York Times, 05/27/01; Notimex, 06/01/01; Spanish news service EFE, 06/04/01; The Miami Herald, 05/29/01, 06/05/01; Associated Press, 06/04/01, 06/05/01; Reuters, 05/28/01, 06/04/01, 06/06/01; Inter Press Service, 06/01/01, 06/04/01, 06/06/01; Latinamerica Press (Peru), 06/11/01; La Opinion (Los Angeles), 06/13/01]
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Article Details
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Publication:NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
Geographic Code:3PERU
Date:Jun 15, 2001

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