Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

REVIEW 2000-PERU: The Fall of Fujimori and Rise of Political Uncertainty

Abraham Lama

LIMA, Dec 28 2000 (IPS) - Peru’s former president Alberto Fujimori, who was removed from office in November, is now writing his memoirs of a decade (1990-2000) of authoritarian government while in self-imposed exile in Tokyo, where he fled to escape trial in his own country.

Meanwhile, the “governability” of the country he until recently led with an iron hand, as he embarked on the initial phase of his third consecutive term in the presidency, now appears to be on shaky ground.

Even his staunchest adversaries recognise the successes of the first years of the Fujimori reign, when he defeated Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a guerrilla organisation that seemed to be on the verge of taking power, and put an end to hyper-inflation that had skyrocketed to 7,000 percent a year.

Not only did he win the 1990 and 1995 elections, but he also achieved the support of the international finance system and the armed forces, which gave him a blank check to take advantage of the situation to create an extreme concentration of power.

He also took political advantage of international assistance and the sales of public enterprises, cultivating food programmes so that more than nine million Peruvians depended on government food aid last year, according to official data.

“Fujimori’s social policy consisted, in large part, of producing social misery in order to reap the support of thankful aid recipients,” commented historian Nelson Manrique.

The lowest income sectors of the population, those who get by on donated food, were the political capital with which he won the elections in April of this year, though his rivals charged that the voting was marred by fraud.

Without a political party of his own, though backed by the support of a acquiescent parliamentary majority, Fujimori held decision-making power in his own hands, but his government became entangled in the corruption and institutional erosion that seems to be inevitable for all authoritarian and centralised regimes.

Since the day he dissolved Congress in 1992, a sort of self-coup that allowed him to call new elections which gave him a parliamentary majority and a Constitution in accordance with his iron-fisted goals, his government maintained tight – and apparently dependent – relations with the armed forces.

The events that occurred after his fall have upheld a recurring image that nevertheless has turned out to be difficult to prove: Peru had been governed by a partnership consisting of the president, the top military brass and the intelligence services.

Perhaps initially, this tripartite association was balanced, but in the end it became evident that neither Fujimori nor the military commanders held the central seat, which belonged to Vladimiro Montesinos, the former intelligence chief who is now a fugitive from justice.

“Fujimori was like King Sol, and could have said ‘the State is I,’ but he was unaware that he had become a mere satellite to a dark sun, which from the shadows manipulated power and began turning the regime into a mafia-run dictatorship,” stated Carlos Iván Degregori, a sociologist at the Peruvian Studies Institute here.

The attempt to remove Montesinos from power after the release of a video showing him bribing opposition lawmaker Alex Kouri triggered Fujimori’s fall, because his former right-hand man disappeared, taking with him the support of the parliamentary bloc he held in his grip, leaving the president with a minority vote in Congress.

To date, Fujimori only admits having tolerated the corruption directed by Montesinos, who was discovered in November to hold more than 70 million dollars in Swiss bank accounts. A parliamentary commission is now sifting through the international banking industry, looking for bank accounts thought to be held by the former president.

The scandalous revelations that accompanied the collapse of the Fujimori regime put a thorough cleaning of government institutions at the head of Per u’s political agenda, pushing social programmes to the number-two slot.

Fujimori finally submitted his resignation, which Congress – now in the hands of the opposition – rejected, deciding instead to remove the president, deeming him morally unfit for office.

Prior to reaching that point, Fujimori had convened new elections for April 8, 2001, a process that is now to be overseen by the caretaker government of President Valentín Paniagua.

On top of the institutional decay in Peru comes the fragmentation of the political opposition that unseated Fujimori and until recently seemed united, but now there is growing concern about the governability of the nation in the immediate future.

“Fujimori exercised a centralist government that was based on control of Congress, but all indications suggest that the upcoming elections will produce a parliament that is just as fragmented as the current one – or even more so -, and that without a majority, the new government will be weak and vulnerable,” commented sociologist Raúl Serrano.

There are already 20 politicians in the running for the presidential seat. Most have not put their political programmes up for public scrutiny and have limited themselves to promising a democratic government that respects human rights and will punish the corrupt officials of the regime deposed in November.

To achieve power, Fujimori played on the public’s distrust of parties and politicians – whether from the left or right wings – that had taken over the political scene in the second half of the 20th century.

“The unfolding of the Fujimori experience will put an end to the predominance of independent candidates without a party, or ideology or known trajectory,” commented former lawmaker Edmundo Murrugarra, voicing an opinion shared by numerous political analysts.

But so far the public opinion polls do not support that prediction, because all the presidential candidates, except for the Social-Christian party’s Lourdes Flores, come from strong-man type movements with the single-minded approach of winning elections.

Among these aspirants is former presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo, who leads the polls with 24 percent of voter support.

Analyst Hugo Neira warned that the next government will find it difficult to satisfy the expectations generated by the Fujimori administration among the low-income population through food assistance and big projects to build roads, schools and medical centres.

“If (the new government) does not effectively connect with the strategic actors who – rightly or wrongly – Fujimori dealt with, from the Andean peasants to the urban masses who are disillusioned with representative government,” cautioned Neira, there could be a public outcry to return “to the supposed efficiency of an authoritarian government.”

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