Peru Municipal Elections Pit Voters Against Rebels
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Shining Path guerrillas killed a candidate for city council today and exploded a car bomb on a railroad bridge as part of an ongoing attempt to block Friday’s nationwide municipal elections.
The attacks coincided with the first day of a two-day strike the rebels called in Lima and Ayacucho, the heartland of the 13-year-old Maoist insurgency, to scare Peruvians away from the polls.
But despite the violence today and rebel attacks that left at least six dead in Lima earlier this week, many candidates are running in the major cities. The vigor of the elections indicates Peruvians have lost some of their fear of the Shining Path since its mastermind, Abimael Guzman, was captured in September.
The outcome of the municipal balloting is not expected to loosen the grip of President Alberto Fujimori, who imposed one-man rule with military backing in April. His Change 90 party fielded candidates in only five important cities.
During strikes, the rebels ban all commercial activity and kill those who disobey. Most buses stayed off the streets in the capital in compliance with the strike order.
But the government diluted the effect of the strike by declaring today a holiday so voters could travel to their hometowns to cast ballots.
The Shining Path tries to block all elections, saying they prop up a corrupt regime.
Victor Sincho, 36, a government candidate for the municipal council of Chorrillos, a Lima district, died today when rebels bombed his home before dawn.
No one was hurt in the car bombing, which did little damage to the bridge. Shining Path rebels also burned at least six buses in Lima shortly before the strike began and bombed three neighborhood headquarters of Fujimori’s party on Wednesday.
Enrique Bernales, who runs a think tank on political violence, said rebel violence had quashed elections in one-quarter of Peru’s municipal districts.
In the 1989 municipal elections, the Shining Path killed at least 45 mayors during the year-long campaign and forced mayors and candidates to resign in nearly a third of the nation’s territory.
″Guerrilla violence is running at the same level,″ Bernales said. ″The only difference is that during these elections the Shining Path had less time for its murderous blackmail.″
This year’s campaign was shortened by congressional elections in late November, but the rebels managed to kill eight candidates for mayor in the past month.
Most of the killings took place in the northern coastal towns of Huaura and Barranca, where fearful candidates now sleep in police stations and military barracks.
Some 11.2 million voters out of a population of 22 million are eligible to elect 1,787 mayors and 10,486 town council members across the country Friday.
There are 38 candidates for mayor in Lima alone. Twelve candidates are running for mayor in the northern jungle city of Tingo Maria, where the Shining Path has killed three mayors.