Peru's Fraud Factor - and the Politics of Tallying Votes ; A Runoff between President Alberto Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo Will Take Place in Late May or Early June

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With mounting evidence of electoral fraud, massive street manifestations and increasing international pressure as a backdrop, the Peruvian government announced Wednesday night that controversial presidential elections will go to a runoff.

President Alberto Fujimori had been advancing in slow-moving official tallies toward the simple majority he needed from Sunday's first-round vote to win an unprecedented third term. But after three days that left the nation on tenterhooks and the world warning of grave consequences over a stolen election, Peru's National Electoral Process Office (ONPE) said President Fujimori would fall just short of the votes needed, forcing him into a runoff with economist Alejandro Toledo.

International pressure paid off

As Peru girds now for a runoff in late May or early June, the perception is widespread that without intense pressure from abroad, Fujimori would today be basking in a first-round victory. "Without the internal and international pressure, the government would have declared Fujimori the outright winner," says Lima political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi.

After exit polls from Peruvian watchdog groups and polling firms concluded as early as Sunday evening that a runoff would be necessary, Fujimori's gradual advance in the official count toward the 50-percent-plus-one mark caused blunt international reaction - especially from the United States.

"The moment I saw the American ambassador on TV saying emphatically that there should be a second round, I knew there would be one," Mr. Rospigliosi says. "The message is that the international community is watching, and that it is not going to permit the imposition of autocratic governments even if they have a democratic facade."

Fujimori will likely spin that criticism to his advantage in the weeks leading to the runoff. He frequently calls himself a different kind of democrat, misunderstood by the international community.

Signalling the hyper-nationalist campaign to come, Fujimori vice- presidential candidate and former foreign minister Francisco Tudela lambasted the US pressure for a runoff, which had come from as high as the White House and Congress.

Mr. Tudela condemned "in the most energetic terms the fact that a foreign government would emit a judgment value about elections in another country before the official count is in." During the campaign, Tudela condemned the calls of international observer groups for stronger guarantees of transparent elections as "neocolonialism."

Announcement of a runoff vote has cut the tension in a nation many thought was on the brink of a social explosion over growing signs of electoral fraud. The thousands of largely student protesters that had been in a nearly permanent vigil in the streets of Lima since Tuesday afternoon erupted in sheer euphoria at the news, cheering Mr. Toledo as he spoke to them from the balcony of a hotel in central Lima.

"I am not a Toledo sympathizer, but we are tired of 10 years with Fujimori, and we don't want him to stay in power based on fraud," said Luis Monroe, who was among the many celebrating the news in the Plaza de San Martin Wednesday night. …