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Fujimori's charm could capture Peruvians a third time

Jan. 6 protests and manipulation charges aren't deterring president's

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With just three months left before Peru chooses its next president, critics are already questioning the fairness of the April 9 elections.

President Alberto Fujimori is seeking an unprecedented third consecutive term in the presidential palace. And not everyone is happy about it, since Peru's 1993 Constitution allows for only two consecutive terms.

"Fujimori's candidacy is the start of electoral fraud, says Bethsabe Andina. "The fact that his candidacy has been approved violates the Constitution and the rule of law." She and some 5,000 other protesters took to Lima's streets last week - angered that the National Electoral Board seemingly ignored the law by approving Fujimori's candidacy.

Until Monday, speculation was rife that Mr. Fujimori's ex-wife, former first lady Susana Higuchi, would run against him. As it turns out, she will be running on an opposition- party ticket as a candidate for Congress. Ms. Higuchi intended to run in the 1995 elections, but Fujimori's congress passed a law making it illegal for presidential family members to run for office. Her 1996 divorce has made her congressional candidacy possible this year.

But even as criticism mounts and protesters take to the streets, Fujimori's popularity is rising - especially among the poor.

His government has taken over the food programs that reach the poorer sectors, in addition to implementing a flurry of small public works projects, such as roads and school construction. More importantly, these projects are closely associated with Fujimori himself who, unlike previous presidents, travels constantly to the sites of new projects.

"These works don't look like a state program, but as if they were a gift from the president," says political analyst Fernando Rospigliosi.

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