May 5, 2000
TERENCE SMITH: The ballot counting in Peru's presidential election last month turned out to be a cliffhanger. A surprise challenger, Alejandro Toledo, denied two-term President Alberto Fujimori the 50% he needed for a first-round win.
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO, Peruvian Presidential Candidate (Translated): I come here tonight to announce to you that collective democratic stubbornness has just triumphed.
TERENCE SMITH: As the election results were announced last month, demonstrators took to the streets of Lima, the capital, charging that Fujimori was rigging the election. Toledo led more than 40,000 protesters in a march on the presidential palace.
DEMONSTRATOR: (Translated): The people are sick to death of Fujimori. Today we have said that it's about time we got rid of this dictatorship.
TERENCE SMITH: Fujimori turned Peruvian politics upside-down ten years ago when the former college dean came from out of nowhere to capture the Peruvian presidency. He now faces his strongest challenge from a surprising source. Toledo, is one of 16 children born to a peasant family in a remote farming village in Ancash Province. He scrapped out a living as a street vendor, shoeshine boy, and teenage newspaper correspondent. Later, two U.S. Peace Corps volunteers helped him move to California, where he won a soccer scholarship and ultimately earned a doctorate in economics at Stanford University. Toledo later worked as an economist at the World Bank and taught at Harvard. On the campaign trail, he delights in calling himself "el cholo from Harvard." El cholo is the term for mixed Indian-Latino heritage, which includes most Peruvians. Now 54, Toledo first ran for president in 1995 when Fujimori easily won reelection. (Singing in Spanish) Today, the runoff campaign is in full swing between Toledo and President Fujimori, who refers to his own Japanese ancestry by calling himself "el chino." Fujimori is campaigning on his record of eliminating triple- digit inflation, combating terrorism, and fighting narcotics traffickers. On those issues, Toledo gives the president credit. For him, the central issue of the campaign has become the alleged election fraud of the Fujimori camp. And indeed, the campaign is already getting rough. Toledo, who frequently campaigns wearing a bulletproof vest, was recently pelted with eggs and flour by Fujimori supporters at an appearance on the outskirts of the capital. During a recent visit to the United States, Toledo talked with the News Hour.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Toledo, welcome.
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO, Peruvian Presidential Candidate: It's a pleasure.
TERENCE SMITH: You have suggested that you might not participate in the runoff election in Peru if the conditions are not what you want. Tell me what those conditions are, and what it will take?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: Essentially, what we are proposing is to rescue the credibility of the national office of our electoral board that is in charge of actually operationalizing the election. The amount of irregularities that have been detected are such that they have lost credibility, and, therefore, we... one item that we are dealing or attempting to deal with is rescuing that credibility, Secondly, the need to have minimal level of equal access to communication media, particularly television. There is nine TV channels in Peru; eight of them are controlled by the government. Third, we think that because this is so unique an election in Latin America, given the previous presidents, it is vital to have a minimum level of political ethics. We do not want to go into the second round under the same conditions that we had in the first round.
TERENCE SMITH: What were those conditions, and what was your problem with them?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: Very uneven. We had no access to communication medium. A lot of hassling, intervening in our telephones, threatening, attempting to discredit using those communication medium to which we do not have access, discredit our candidacy -- and finally, a blunt fraud that when, not only in the process of the campaign, but rather the actual date of the election.
TERENCE SMITH: And the counting of ballots?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: And the count of the ballots. Fourth, it is needed more than ever today that international observers be in the field during the 30 days process of the second round, rather than coming just the week before the day of elections. And finally, it has been now as a piece of data that firms that do polls in Peru have fallen to the same situation that the TV channels orders. That is, they have been kidnapped by the government, and therefore, we need to have the presence of international polls firms that do with some independence and provide us some new elements of judgment.
TERENCE SMITH: What's your level of confidence that you're going to have the access to the Peruvian television and media that you need?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: I'm optimistic by definition, though realistically I don't perceive the political will from the part of the government to allow this access and, therefore, my guess is they are buying time. And meanwhile, the dirty work still continues, and, therefore, one needs to think through carefully what might be the eventual scenario if no significant changes take place and the rule ground for a second turf, second round.
TERENCE SMITH: And what might that scenario be?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: I don't want to anticipate anything yet, but let me share with you our firm conviction of not going to a second round if no significant changes take place with respect to the first round.
TERENCE SMITH: You literally will not compete, will not...
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is we are entertaining some contingency plans, but I don't want to anticipate anything that would undermine the jobs of the mediators who has just begun working two days ago.
TERENCE SMITH: What are the prospects for unrest and either in such a circumstance as you describe, or with an outcome that is not persuasive to the public?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: This is no longer an issue of a competition between President Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo. This is not even an issue only of an election in Peru. We have here a new style of government in which a combination of a military apparatus with intelligence service, and in complicity with the government, have created a monopoly of political institutions that have captured the legislative branch, the judicial system, the electoral board, the communication media, the armed forces. That's... that is really counterproductive, and to change the constitution for a third term, it is...
TERENCE SMITH: In order to permit...
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: In order to permit President Fujimori to run again. It is sending dangerous signals to Latin America, and it appears in other... Four countries already that temptation of modifying the constitution to benefit reelection.
TERENCE SMITH: How important will outside observers be in this election? And, particularly, what are you asking the United States to do in that role?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: I think international observers have played a critical role in the first round. In fact, the cumulative effect of the national response to noticeable fraud, the cumulative action of the national response together with the reaction of the international community have, in effect, stopped from declaring President Fujimori, with a fraud, winner in the first round.
TERENCE SMITH: Hmm-hmm.
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: We led what the country was telling us. We have now people that are participating with us that do not belong to our... to our political party: University students, national professional organizations. It is a clean-cut line. This is authoritarianism versus democracy and respect for institutions and respect for institutions, respect for the will of the voters.
TERENCE SMITH: And, so, that's the choice for the Peruvian people...
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: That...
TERENCE SMITH: From your point of view?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: From our point of view, we are not defending just our political platform of the candidacy of Alejandro Toledo. It is my firm conviction that I'm going to go all the way through in this fight for respect for democratic institutions and respect for the will of the people and, in a country where there is checks and balance, because when you have an institutional vacuum, the temptation for authoritarianism are much greater.
TERENCE SMITH: When you had doubts about the election in the first round, you led thousands of people at a march in Lima on the presidential palace. Are you prepared to do that again?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: We don't have the tanks, we don't have money, we don't have an intelligence service. We only have the will, and we will listen closely to our people. If there is no significant changes, we peacefully-- respecting private property, within the frameworks of the laws and constitution-- we are prepared to go to the streets again.
TERENCE SMITH: And what would you forecast if you did that?
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: Well, eventually I that the government will have to listen to what is... People telling them. Enough is enough. I recognize several of the accomplishments of President Fujimori, and moreover I want to build over his accomplishment new steps that the country need to go into. But I think that it is not very wise for President Fujimori and his advisors to persist in a third term that eventually might erase the good things that he did with the right hand and might undo it with the left hand.
TERENCE SMITH: Mr. Toledo, thank you very much.
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO: Thank you, kindly.