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Fujimori Counting on Peru’s Poor

May 27, 2000

PORCON, Peru (AP) _ Indian peasants in this farming village in the lush, green mountains of northern Peru will be voting en masse for President Alberto Fujimori in Sunday’s presidential runoff. They’re not worried about vote fraud or the threat of international isolation.

``We are for Fujimori,″ said Elena Castrellon Julca, who sported the tall straw hat popular with Indians in this region. ``He has built a health post and a new hotel on the hill for tourists who want to visit. The people are going to vote for him, for certain.″

Fujimori is counting on solid support among Peru’s poor majority, people like Castrellon, to weather the international storm provoked by the refusal of election officials to postpone the flawed runoff.

The 61-year-old Fujimori, known as ``The Emperor″ for his autocratic style, is running alone, disregarding a boycott by opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo, violent street protests and the withdrawal of foreign monitors.

Fujimori is seeking a third five-year term despite a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms. Speaking Saturday, Toledo said the refusal of election officials to postpone the runoff ``announced the death of democracy in Peru.″

Criticism continued as Fujimori headed toward certain victory _ but also a possible future of international isolation and domestic turmoil.

The European Union announced Saturday it was withdrawing its observers, saying Toledo’s decision not to participate ``deprives this election of every element of democratic competition.″

Jorge Santistevan, Peru’s public ombudsman, added his voice: ``We don’t think enough improvements have been made to carry out free and competitive elections.″

The Organization of American States said Friday it was reducing its observer mission to a minimum because, by international standards, Peru’s electoral process is tainted.

President Clinton urged Peru on Friday to postpone the runoff, saying that without a delay, there is no way to ensure the election is fair. He warned that relations with Peru ``inevitably will be affected″ if fraud occurs.

Foreign monitors wanted a delay to be able to evaluate new software for tabulating votes. During the first round election officials could not satisfactorily explain how the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of voters by more than 1.4 million.

Fujimori won 49.9 percent of the vote, just shy of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff against Toledo, who collected 40.2 percent.

Downplaying the threat of international sanctions, Prime Minister Alberto Bustamante said the absence of foreign observers ``in no way affects the validity and legitimacy of the process.″

Polls show Fujimori could probably defeat Toledo easily in a clean election. Three opinion surveys in recent days gave Fujimori a comfortable lead of eight to 10 percentage points over the U.S.-educated economist.

Pollsters said Toledo’s ambivalence _ insisting he was still a candidate but would not take part in Sunday’s runoff _ had confused voters. Since voting is obligatory, Toledo urged voters to spoil their ballots in protest.

``I voted for Toledo in the first round because he promised to create decent jobs,″ said Zozimo Chagua, 36, who runs a newsstand in Lima’s San Isidro banking district. ``But on Sunday I’m going to vote for Fujimori because you can’t trust Toledo. One day he says one thing and the next day something else.″

In Porcon, villagers have never had any doubts as to their candidate.

They proudly tick off what Fujimori has done for Porcon, a prosperous village of 850 people tucked among pine forests high in the Andes 360 miles northwest of Lima.

Since 1993 Fujimori’s government has rebuilt Porcon’s communal center, assisted in soil conservation, installed a potable water system and sewers, built volleyball courts, expanded the school, constructed a health clinic and latrines and installed four greenhouses for cultivating high-altitude potatoes.

Wilmer Perez, 26, a member of Porcon’s farming cooperative, said Fujimori is like a native son.

Fujimori, he said, has visited Porcon seven times, often just to enjoy the bucolic peace of the countryside, and has spent the night on several occasions. Perez said tourists are coming in increasing numbers since Fujimori encouraged a Lima television station to do a travel documentary on the area.

Standing behind the counter in her shop, where she sells knickknacks made from pine cones, Castrellon said:

``Many people are coming now and spending money in our shops. It is all because of Fujimori.″

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