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Peru In Uncharted Political Territory

September 18, 2000

LIMA, Peru (AP) _ President Alberto Fujimori’s stunning decision to call new elections and end his 10-year authoritarian reign has launched Peru into an uncertain future and left many wondering how its powerful military will react.

Rumors swept Lima on Sunday that Fujimori decided to call new elections because of resistance from top military officers when he said he would ``deactivate″ the National Intelligence Service, run by Vladimiro Montesinos, his shadowy aide at the center of a bribery scandal.

Montesinos _ once dubbed Fujimori’s ``Rasputin″ _ had built a wide base of support inside the military during his years at the helm of the feared intelligence service.

But Fujimori appeared to be in control of the armed forces Sunday, and military barracks were reported to be calm. Fujimori on Saturday night called for new elections, but said he would not be a candidate.

Many Peruvians, however, still view Montesinos as the more powerful of the two and fear he will resist leaving power along with Fujimori.

Legal experts say the only thing that is certain is that Peru is heading into uncharted political territory.

Fujimori, who has said he will not run in the election, has not groomed an obvious successor, nor has he elaborated on how or when he plans to vacate office.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Alejandro Toledo, who headed back to Peru from Washington Sunday, says he is prepared to govern.

``I want to be president. I will be president. I am prepared to govern,″ Toledo told reporters during a layover at Miami’s international airport. Arriving at Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport, he told hundreds of cheering supporters that he planned to meet with other opposition leaders to discuss a unified candidacy.

Toledo, who had been Fujimori’s main challenger, boycotted May’s presidential runoff vote, charging the vote would be rigged. Fujimori won.

The elections to replace Fujimori will likely be held in six to seven months, Health Minister Alejandro Aguinaga said Sunday. And Prime Minister Federico Salas said Fujimori would remain in power until the elections took place.

But parts of Peru’s opposition want Fujimori out now.

Martin Belaunde, president of Peru’s Bar Association, said that nothing short of a transitional government and the formation of a constitutional assembly to rewrite the constitution and to reform Peru’s discredited electoral system would suffice.

Also on Sunday, White House spokesman Jake Siewert, traveling in Pennsylvania with President Clinton, said the United States has been encouraging political reform since the elections in May.

In light of Fujimori’s decision, Siewert said, ``We hope that all elements in Peru will work a peaceful and transparent process to achieve full democracy.″

Fujimori said Saturday that a videotape allegedly showing Montesinos bribing an opposition lawmaker to defect to the president’s congressional bloc had damaged the stability of his government and of the country.

Montesinos is being investigated by the attorney general’s office, but has not been detained, Salas said. Salas stressed that Fujimori was still fully in charge of the armed forces amid unconfirmed reports that some regional military commanders loyal to Montesinos planned to oppose the spy chief’s ouster.

Military experts said Fujimori’s decision was likely supported by discontented midlevel officers, fed up with Montesinos’ meddling in the armed forces.

Retired army Gen. Daniel Mora said he doubted Montesinos had enough pull in the military to launch a barracks revolt over Fujimori’s decision.

``The internal pressure from the armed forces is important and sufficient enough to dissuade any action Montesinos may want to develop,″ he said.

Analysts said the video, released Thursday, had caused an irreparable rift between Fujimori and his spy chief, who Fujimori had always relied on to help maintain an overwhelming grip on power.

Fujimori lost his majority control of congress in this year’s election. But he regained it before his July 28 inauguration amid allegations that Montesinos and his agents bribed and blackmailed opposition lawmakers to defect to Fujimori.

The video was the clearest evidence to date backing up widespread accusations that Montesinos’ main function in Fujimori’s government was to subvert Peru’s democracy.

The video appeared to be the decisive blow to Fujimori’s regime since his highly questioned re-election to an unprecedented third five-year term. International observers had refused to monitor the vote, saying it could not be considered ``free or fair.″

Fujimori came to power in 1990, and later teamed up with Montesinos to co-opt Peru’s military, eliminating a time-honored promotion system based on seniority and merit.

Today, Peru’s top military commands are filled with former army cadets from Montesinos’ 1966 graduating class at the Chorrillos military college.

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