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Seizing Peru's opportunity

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Although politics in Peru will remain unsettled and uncertain for some time to come, there are reasons for some optimism that democracy will regain a foothold in the coming year.

President Fujimori's surprise announcement - just two months after starting his third term -that he planned to call new elections and leave office was good news for Peru's democratic renewal. This is precisely what Peru's opposition groups had been demanding ever since their candidate, Alejandro Toledo, withdrew from the May 28th run-off vote that Mr. Fujimori had rigged in his own favor.

A smooth and successful return to demo-cratic government will depend mainly on the government and Army sticking to their promise of new elections next spring, but Peru's opposition forces also have a key part to play. Their first challenge is to reach agreement with the Fujimori regime, which plans to stay in power through July, on the rules and procedures that will govern the new elections.

Nothing is now more important than making the electoral process fair and competitive - which must include assurances of a free press and a credible oversight authority.

This is where the energy of opposition leaders and the international community should be focused. It would be a dangerous mistake to allow other issues to divert attention from this central task.

Moreover, opposition leaders need to reach common ground and establish some working relationship with the president and other authorities. Confrontation is not the way to proceed, certainly not now that the government has already agreed to new elections. (On these grounds, arranging political asylum in Panama for Fujimori's venomous security adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos, rather than arresting him in Peru, was the sensible course to take - although at some point he should be made accountable for his crimes.)

The sooner there is an agreement on the essentials of the electoral process, the better. A public commitment to such an agreement will further constrain the Fujimori government and the armed forces, and the leverage of the international community will increase once there is an accord among Peruvians that it can legitimately seek to enforce. That is where the international community will be most effective and influential - making both sides stick to their promises. There is likely to be consensus among the international actors about holding the Peruvian government, and the opposition, to its electoral commitments.

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