TOPICS > Politics

A Fair Fight in Peru?

April 13, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: And for more, we get three views. Dennis Jett served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 27 years, and was U.S. Ambassador to Peru from 1996 to 1999. Vladimir Kocerha is a correspondent for “El Gestion,” a Peruvian financial newspaper, and for CPN, Peru’s second largest radio network. He just returned from the country two days ago. And Carol Graham is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and has written extensively about Peru and Latin America.

Well, Dennis Jett, it was a cliffhanger. Are you surprised by how all this has turned out?

DENNIS JETT, Former U.S. Ambassador to Peru: There are a couple things that surprise me, the strength of Toledo who emerged late and was able to win 40% of the vote and force a runoff; that surprised me. And the way the ballots came in, there was very little variation once the counting got underway. And the president came within a razor’s edge of getting a majority, but in the end he’ll have to face a runoff too. I think it’s a victory for all, I think it’s a victory for democracy and those people that care about democracy.

I think it’s a victory for Toledo for making a good showing, and I think it’s a victory for Fujimori, who has a unique opportunity to salvage his place in history by running in a runoff that — a campaign that’s clean and a process that’s above reproach, and either winning a clear mandate, and a legitimate one, or not. The irony and tragedy of Fujimori is that he in some respects, he has been a very good president, historic accomplishments, as outlined in your introductory film of controlling inflation, controlling terrorism, controlling narcotics trafficking, signing a peace with Ecuador. But all that will be undone if he wins a discredited victory and has a great difficulty governing the nation.

RAY SUAREZ: Carol Graham, do you think that this really was a legit number at the end, 49.85%, just short of the 50 needed to avoid that runoff?

CAROL GRAHAM, Brookings Institute: It’s very difficult to say. I think there were a tremendous amount of irregularities in the process, which began with the initial attempt by Fujimori to overturn the supreme court ruling that ruled it was unconstitutional for him to run to begin with — then to a very nasty campaign, in which there were very credible accusations that the opposition was harassed, did not have access to the media, all kinds of other inequities in the campaign. And finally in the process, there were several complaints about observers not being allowed to watch, or being excluded from the vote count. There was a tremendous delay in tabulating the results, and a lot of very credible accusations of fraudulent tactics. So I certainly can say if this election had swayed a couple points in the other direction and Fujimori had declared a victory, with this process, there would have been a tremendous amount of unrest, and the results would not have been by any means credible. Given that these results only take us to a second round, what we need to look for and hope for is that this next round is much more of a clean campaign in which the winner has a legitimate mandate to govern, whether that be Fujimori or Toledo, and which is sanctioned as free and fair by international observers.

RAY SUAREZ: Vladimir Kocerha, all during the week it was inching closer to 50%, then large crowds came onto the street and the United States made it very clear it wouldn’t look well in a first round win. Is that what stopped it at 49.85%?

VLADIMIR KOCERHA, Gestion Newspaper, Peru: I guess, yes. There were two things that stopped it. Both international pressure, as you have mentioned and we have seen in the report, yes, international pressure, the U.S. government, other governments calling in, other governments from the region, and also the domestic, the people going out on the streets. And what we have seen our images from Lima, but many of the cities to the South part of the country – namely Cusco … and Puno — and also in the North close to Lima where Toledo is from, have also showed very, the reaction in a very strong way by hundreds and thousands of people going onto the streets. So yes, both international and domestically you have seen — Fujimori has seen himself forced to cope with his second round.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there much difference politically between these two men who are going into the runoff? Or is this really now a personality driven campaign?

VLADIMIR KOCERHA: Well, the political difference are I guess in the matter of styles. Fujimori, we know him for the past ten years, I would say that Fujimori has had two different, has shown two different faces, the first five years, the first period, the first term he had between 1990 and 1995, yes, he did a lot of good things for the country, specifically defeating the terrorist groups, also bringing the inflation under control. But then after 1995, we started seeing a different Fujimori, a more autocratic Fujimori who was already thinking about this possible third term. Okay. So then is when we really learned how Fujimori is like. Now, in the case of Toledo we have to say that he’s a U.S. educated economist, he came at an early age to the U.S. after being part of a very low class family in the North and coastal city of Peru. Now when he was here in the U.S., he apparently learned what the U.S. was all about. So he has a different style, a different personality, I would say more democratic. He’s showing that at least in his speeches.

RAY SUAREZ: Carol Graham, Toledo also mobilized the opposition on the street and was unyielding during these weekdays of the count. Does that bother you, does that set the stage for a very rough and tempestuous election season?

CAROL GRAHAM: I don’t think so. I think it was something he had to do to pressure the government, given the tactics that had occurred up until that point. I think it actually looks most interesting about Toledo is that you have almost a mirror image of what Fujimori did in the 1990 elections, which is an unknown university professor that people have hunches could be an okay leader, we don’t know very much about any of his platforms — becomes a symbol of change, and gets a tremendous amount of popularity, and overcomes the sort of favored winner. The one thing we do know about Toledo is that he has taken a very centrist, very orthodox stance on economics, he wouldn’t change the current very successful economic strategy. And in fact, Fujimori’s promises in the campaign on the economic front were much more populist than were Toledo’s.

RAY SUAREZ: And Dennis Jett, during this campaign season, Fujimori is said to have used the national broadcasting system to, as a tool of his political campaign, put a lot of pressure on the printing press when it didn’t write what he was looking for. Is he going to have to cool that now that the world may be paying attention to this runoff election?

DENNIS JETT: Well, I think that’s a key element of any free and fair election — is access to the media and a media that’s not used as a baseball bat against your opponents. I think there are a lot of questions raised about the role of the media, how it was used, and if those continue in the run-up to the runoff, then there will be continued questions about the fairness of the runoff elections.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there going to be more attention for the runoff, Dennis Jett, than there was for the first round? Does this kind of event galvanize world attention, bring in observers, that sort of thing?

DENNIS JETT: Well, I would think that a minimum all those organizations that have sent observers will stay the course, will maintain their interest and see this through to the end. I think it’s important for Peru, important for Latin America and all the Americas that this be a successful exercise in democracy.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Vladimir, what should we understand now about the state of democracy in Peru, still a fragile flower?

VLADIMIR KOCERHA: Definitely. It’s very fragile. And as a matter of fact, before we go into the election itself — a second round of the election — things have to change. And one of the things that has to change in Peru is definitely the electoral board. Who is going to tally the votes? Ompe has show that they are not prepared –

RAY SUAREZ: And Ompe -that’s the national commission that did the count?

VLADIMIR KOCERHA: That’s right; they have dragged this tallying for the past four days and they are the ones who have been motivating, kind of creating this chaos, this uncertainty in the country, by many standards. And now the other thing of course, you mentioned, is the media. Just to give your viewers an idea what it is like, in Peru you have open-air channels, which are seen by most Peruvians, and cable is only seen by 6 to 7% of Peruvians. During the election day after the decision was announced at 4:00, most open air channels gave Toledo the majority over Fujimori.

RAY SUAREZ: In the polling.

VLADIMIR KOCERHA: In the polling, yes. And then they went off the air for 3 1/2 hours. I mean, they were showing cartoons and films. Only one cable station managed to continue with the balloting and showing the regional and provincial results. And three and a half hours later they come back in with different results, and that’s what the Peruvian people see. Here in the U.S. you have seen more than down there. So that’s basically another thing that has to change.

RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you very much. The runoff is in June.