In Peru, Almost Anything Goes to Get Out the Vote

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Boris Yeltsin must envy Alberto Fujimori his youth. While the Russian was forced by age and infirmity to give up on the dream, Fujimori has succeeded in conjuring up a third presidential bid even though his constitution only allows two. But Peru's voters didn't play along in Sunday's election, denying Fujimori a majority and forcing him into a runoff against Alejandro Toledo, a liberal economist whose support stood at only 4 percent some four weeks ago. Lima was wracked by protests Monday as Toledo supporters marched on the presidential palace accusing Fujimori of rigging the polls — a charge that may resonate internationally, after the U.S. government last month endorsed a report by the Carter Center alleging that Fujimori's men had "irreparably damaged" prospects for a free and fair election through violent intimidation.

Although Fujimori is still widely credited with curbing terrorism and runaway inflation with his tough policies, his authoritarian streak and the poor performance of his country's economy has alienated many voters. But Fujimori made it clear three years ago that he had no intention of handing over power when he passed a law entitling him to the extra term on the basis that the constitution he rewrote in 1992 came into effect only after his initial election — and had congress dismiss three constitutional court judges who challenged this interpretation. "His critics also say that in order to be reelected, he's put the brakes on economic reforms and veered toward populism," says TIME Latin American bureau chief Tim McGirk. "More than one third of Peru's population now receives daily meals and milk from the government." And that dependency also creates political power, with numerous reports of villagers being threatened with losing government support if they vote for the opposition. When the election season began, state-controlled media and pro-Fujimori tabloids relentlessly smeared the three opposition candidates, prompting all but Toledo to fall out of the race. "And election observers had warned that with many of the far-flung election booths under military control, there may be attempts to rig the poll," says McGirk. Now, Toledo, who led his supporters' protest march, plans to go for broke in a runoff vote. But Fujimori doesn't give up easily. After all, a president who, like Yeltsin, once used his military to close down an uncooperative Congress isn't going to be spooked by a few million angry voters.