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Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Dignified exit for Peru's great survivor?
President Fujimori announces new elections
The president's address took the nation by surprise
After President Fujimori's shock announcement that he is calling new elections the BBC's Ed Butler assesses the political implications.

A political scandal has become a political earthquake in Peru.

The western hemisphere's longest serving democratically elected president went on television saying he will be standing down following the sudden political scandal that has shaken his government's authority to the core.


He is a very cold-minded man, and he realises that if he let this situation escalate, he would have a situation similar to that of President Nixon in the 1970s

Former opposition senator Miguel Cruchaga
It was an announcement that many Peruvians had called for but few expected they would ever hear, and it prompted immediate opposition celebrations.

The current crisis began for Mr Fujimori's government last Thursday, with the broadcast on national television of a highly compromising videotape.

It showed Vladimiro Montesinos, the national security chief, apparently bribing an opposition member of Congress to switch to the government's side.

"This video caused an absolute scandal in Peru," said the BBC's correspondent James Reynolds.

Video showing Peru's spy chief
The video scene which sparked outrage
"The opposition, which had been fractured, decided to unite, and the Organisation of American States called for quick and severe action to be taken."

There was no word from Mr Fujimori for two days. Then came his television announcement, calling new elections and saying he would not be a candidate in them.

Following the Peruvian national elections in April, 15 opposition politicians including the one shown in the videotape, Alberto Kouri, suddenly announced they would be joining Mr Fujimori's Peru 2000 party, giving him an overall congressional majority.

At the time, this fuelled opposition allegations of widespread electoral fraud.


We are very happy, because we have been asking for this since April - we've been asking him to go, and he left

Member of the public
The president's ex-wife, Susana Higuchi - now one of his most ardent adversaries - was the one to announce the existence of the incrimating video on Thursday.

On the tape, Mr Montesinos - one of Mr Fujimori's closest aides - can be heard asking Mr Kouri: "How much?".

Mr Montesinos then appears to offer him a total of $15,000.

Although the tape has provoked enormous popular outrage in Peru, Mr Fujimori's resignation has nonetheless surprised many, given his tenacious grip on the presidency over the past decade.

Woman anti-government protester gives a soldier a rose
The president's announcement brought demonstrators onto the streets
He has not been afraid to suspend the constitution and dissolve Congress in the past to maintain his control. Miguel Cruchaga is a former opposition senator.

"What I think has happened is that he is a very cold-minded man, and he realises that if he let this situation escalate, he would have a situation similar to that of President Nixon in the USA in the 1970s," said former opposition senator Miguel Cruchaga.

"So it would be better to start by taking full responsibility."

Armed forces

Mr Fujimori has also called for the complete suspension of the country's powerful security service which Mr Montesinos heads.

This may prove easier said than done in a country where the security forces still play an important political role.

This, and the exact date of any future election, are just some of the issues that remain in doubt, according to Mr Cruchaga.

"I hope that the armed forces will back whatever structure is created during the provisional months in which Mr Fujimori will still be head of state," he said.

Conclusions

"I hope that the judicial process concerning all this buying and selling of parliamentary members will produce satisfaction to the people in the sense that the system is working again.

"That will allow us to arrive at certain conclusions as to who are the reasonable candidates."

For now, the man most likely to succeed Mr Fujimori seems to be the former opposition presidential candidate, Alejandro Toledo.

The stand he and others took against what they saw as institutional government corruption has - for most Peruvians at least - been vindicated by the revelations of the last few days.

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See also:

17 Sep 00 | Americas
Shock election call in Peru
07 Apr 00 | Americas
Fujimori's controversial career
17 Sep 00 | Americas
OAS demands action on Peru scandal
15 Sep 00 | Media reports
Cash, lies and videotape shock Peru
29 Jul 00 | Americas
Peru's bubbling unrest
21 Jul 00 | Americas
Neighbours snub Fujimori
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