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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Fujimori's controversial career
Alberto Fujimori waving to crowd
Alberto Fujimori inherited economic chaos
By Americas regional analyst James Read

To his supporters, the Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, is the man who saved Peru from the twin evils of terrorism and economic collapse.

To his opponents, he is an authoritarian strongman who has ridden roughshod over the country's democratic institutions in order to preserve his hold on power.

Throughout his political career, Mr Fujimori has always been surrounded by controversy. When he won the presidential elections in 1990, few Peruvians knew what to expect.

Alberto Fujimori
Mr Fujimori changed the constitution to run in the election
An agricultural engineer born of Japanese parents, Mr Fujimori was a political unknown until weeks before the vote, in which he surprisingly defeated the centre-right coalition candidate, the author Mario Vargas Llosa.

He inherited a country on the verge of economic collapse and racked by political violence.

With no party machine to back him and few declared policies, these were problems he seemed poorly equipped to solve.

Within weeks, he began implementing a radical programme of free-market economic reforms, removing subsidies, privatising state-owned companies, and reducing the role of the state in almost all spheres of the economy.

Though this shock therapy brought great hardship for ordinary Peruvians, it ended rampant hyperinflation and paved the way for sustained economic growth in the second half of the nineties.

The Fujimori era
1990: Wins a surprise victory at polls, beating author Mario Vargas Llosa
1992: Dissolves Peru's congress with military backing, assuming greater control
1995: Restores congress and overwhelmingly wins a second term
1997: Acclaimed for ending the siege at Japan's Peruvian diplomatic mission, occupied by Tupac Amaru guerillas
2000: Re-elected for a third term amid allegations of ballot rigging
Mr Fujimori also moved quickly to tackle the left-wing rebels whose 10-year insurgency had caused thousands of deaths and brought the country to the brink of chaos.

In 1992, with the support of the military, he dissolved the Peruvian congress and courts and seized dictatorial powers.

He justified the measure by arguing that the legislative and judiciary had been hindering the security forces in their fight against the rebels.

Opposition politicians said he was really seeking to escape any democratic checks to his power. But he was soon vindicated in the eyes of most Peruvians by the capture of the leader of the main rebel group, known as the Shining Path.

Growing criticism

Under international pressure to restore democracy, Mr Fujimori re-wrote the constitution and reopened the Congress, which has been dominated by his supporters ever since.

In 1995 he stood for re-election and won an overwhelming victory. Most voters cited his twin victories over left-wing insurgents and hyperinflation as the reason for giving him their support.

Anti-Fujimori posters
There has been condemnation of Mr Fujimori for running for a third term
But while many Peruvians accepted his authoritarian methods as a necessary evil in the fight against the rebels, a growing number began to voice concern that these same methods were being employed against his democratic opponents.

His critics accuse him of using the Intelligence Service - led by his shadowy security adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos - to intimidate and spy on political opponents. They say he exerts unfair control on the mass media and the judiciary and uses government resources to support his own political campaigns.

This criticism increased when he announced he was to stand for an unprecedented third successive presidential term. Opposition politicians declared the move illegal, as under the constitution he introduced in 1993 only two terms were allowed.

But Mr Fujimori argued that as he was first elected under the previous constitution, he had technically only served one term. When the constitutional court disagreed with his interpretation, he sacked several of the judges.

Dirty tricks

As the election date approached, so allegations that Mr Fujimori was using dirty tricks to ensure his re-election increased.

Several election officials resigned amid allegations that more than a million signatures were forged to ensure Mr Fujimori's registration as a candidate, and both the United States government and the Organisation of American States expressed concern over irregularities in the electoral campaign.

Alejandro Toledo
Alejandro Toledo challenged Mr Fujimori in May
In the weeks leading up to the poll, his commanding lead in opinion polls had been eroded by a groundswell of support for the candidacy of Alejandro Toledo, a former World Bank economist.

Though by no means an unknown figure, Mr Toledo is a political outsider whose humble origins and populist style mirror those of Mr Fujimori himself.

In the event, Mr Fujimori came out on top, despite opposition allegations of fraud and criticism from Washington of the circumstances surrounding his re-election.

A series of opposition defections since May restored the president's majority in congress, but it emerged that this may have been a result of a series of bribes.

This scandal at the heart of the government led to the dramatic television announcement that Mr Fujimori would be stepping down and calling new elections.

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