Time to leave

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:00am

Alberto Fujimori's bid to seek a third term as president of Peru involved amending the country's constitution and sacking several members of its constitutional court. Although evidence was hard to come by, there was widespread suspicion that it also involved vote-fixing and bribing members of the opposition to ensure his party wielded majority control in Parliament.

So when a piece of damning evidence - a video showing his intelligence chief handing over a wad of bills to an opposition congressman to try to get him to support the Government - was broadcast on national television last week, the President's fate was sealed. Mr Fujimori has called fresh elections and announced he will not run.

Only four months ago, the President, who was first elected in 1990 and successfully sought a second term in 1995, seemed unperturbed by the massive protests that greeted his re-election. In his words, he was being forced to run to protect his decade-long record of free-market reforms.

Having eliminated 7,000 per cent inflation and eradicated a decade-old Maoist insurgency, Mr Fujimori thought he should be allowed to carry on. 'It is not that we think we are indispensable, but the political forces and movements that have emerged represent a kind of improvisation and neo-populism that could threaten what has been achieved until today,' he said. If these sounded like the words of an elder statesman who had served his time but refused to go, so be it. In a country where politics and bribery are intertwined, holding on to the reins of power is also the surest way of suppressing opposition.

That being the case and given his record of riding roughshod over democratic institutions to preserve his hold on power, it is too early to say if Mr Fujimori will honour his words not to stand for election again. But he would be doing his country a favour by calling it a day now and acknowledging that he really is not indispensable.