Alberto Fujimori, an obscure outsider who barely figured in public opinion polls three months ago, won the Peruvian presidency Sunday by a surprisingly decisive margin over famed novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, exit surveys showed.
The 51-year-old son of Japanese immigrants--making his first run for public office--rode to victory on a wave of disgust with Peru's veteran politicians, who have presided over one of the worst national declines in Latin America.
Exit polls by three major firms gave Fujimori victory margins of more than 10 percentage points. The polls' margins of error were all less than 3 percentage points, leaving no doubt about the outcome.
Conceding defeat in a speech to supporters, Vargas Llosa called on Peruvians to "stitch the wounds" from the bitter campaign, which fostered rancorous disputes over race, religion and ethics. He also paid homage to the scores of candidates and other activists killed during the past year of campaigning, saying, "All of them are our martyrs, the heroes of our democracy."
Fujimori, in turn, invited all political forces, including Vargas Llosa's Democratic Front alliance, to form a government of national unity able to work together to combat Peru's virulent guerrilla insurgency as well as the economic crisis.
From the balcony of the Hotel Crillon in downtown Lima, Fujimori proclaimed in a victory speech to thousands of cheering supporters:
"We want to write our history beginning July 28 (inauguration day) with works that bring well-being to the people--a new management, a new style, more objective, more technical, less politicized--guarding first and foremost the nation's interests and the people's interests. . . . This is the new road."
An agricultural engineer and former university rector, Fujimori emerged from nowhere to finish second in the first-round ballot on April 8 and earn a place in the runoff. He proposed a vague, moderate recovery program based on attacking corruption and encouraging small- and medium-sized industry.
Although Vargas Llosa also was a political novice, his alliance with established parties in a right-of-center coalition was central in his crash from front-runner to loser. Fujimori repeatedly attacked Vargas Llosa as a tool of wealthy conservatives who would neglect the needs of Peru's poor.
Fujimori now must scramble to assemble a government plan and a team to implement it. His new party, Cambio 90 (Change 90), won a minority of seats in Congress in the April 8 vote, so he also will have to seek political support from other parties.
The president-elect, who will turn 52 on inauguration day, faces inflation racing at more than 2,000% a year, a fall in the gross domestic product of 22% over the last two years and a work force in which just 18% are fully employed.
Fujimori also faces the fanatical Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas, whose 10-year-old Maoist insurgency has claimed more than 18,000 lives.
Sendero rebels, calling for a boycott of the vote, set off bombs, toppled power pylons and called "armed strikes" in several provincial capitals. An explosion at a polling station in Huancayo killed at least one voter, news reports said, in one of at least 10 bombings in that Andean city.
Vargas Llosa, 54, had called for radical free-market reforms, including the privatization of most state-owned businesses and an end to subsidies, aimed at bringing inflation down to 10% in one year.
Fujimori argued that Vargas Llosa's "shock" plan would punish poor Peruvians who already have borne the brunt of the recession and inflation. Without ever disclosing a detailed platform, Fujimori promised to gradually bring down inflation and restore economic growth with new technology in industry and agriculture.
Abandoning his folksy, conciliatory first-round style for a more aggressive and class-oriented campaign, Fujimori slipped in opinion polls from a 20-point lead to a statistical tie in the final surveys. But the exit polls showed that he fended off Vargas Llosa's steady climb by consolidating Peru's range of left-of-center parties into an anti-rightist tsunami--a Japanese word for seismic wave.
Outgoing President Alan Garcia, prohibited from seeking reelection, virtually endorsed Fujimori and threw the apparatus of the ruling American Popular Revolutionary Alliance behind Fujimori's candidacy. Other parties of the left also opposed Vargas Llosa's Democratic Front coalition.
Vargas Llosa made his entry into politics in 1987 by opposing Garcia's plan to nationalize Peru's banks. The writer attempted to portray Fujimori as a continuation of Garcia's failed economic policies.
Some analysts speculated that Fujimori would try to work with the Democratic Front, which won the largest blocs of House and Senate seats, while others suggested he might seek an alliance with Garcia's APRA and parties further to the left.
Among the many problems facing Fujimori are the $17-billion foreign debt and Garcia's legacy of tensions with banks and financial organizations that are owed $2 billion.
Fujimori told reporters Sunday that priorities will be to re-establish good relations with the creditors and to build up trade with Asian countries.
Vargas Llosa fared well only in Lima and in Peru's eastern jungle region. He apparently won in Lima by only one or two percentage points, far less than expected. He had needed a huge victory in the capital, home to one-third of Peru's 21 million people, to offset Fujimori's vast edge in the north, the south and the central Andes Mountains highlands.
Fujimori, former head of the national agricultural university, used a simpler language than the intellectual Vargas Llosa, who often appeared tense and severe. Soft-spoken and bespectacled, Fujimori donned the caps and blankets of Andean peasants as he spoke from the back of a tractor, his trademark symbol, in dusty urban slums and remote villages.
Polls and interviews showed that Vargas Llosa suffered from his alliance with the centrist Popular Action Party of two-time President Fernando Belaunde Terry and the rightist Popular Christian Party of former Lima Mayor Luis Bedoya Reyes.
"For 160 years, they have forgotten the people," said one 32-year-old man voting in the slum area of La Victoria, referring to the country's political elite. "Now it is time for someone new. The right wing has so much money and power and publicity, even to the point of buying the people. The Japanese, though, have never been dragged into these conflicts in our history. They have only worked."
That image of the hard-working Japanese served Fujimori well. He posed in a samurai outfit and was affectionately though incorrectly known as El Chinito (the Little Chinese) . In a nonstop grass-roots campaign, he insisted that his support came from "the real Peru," that of poor Indians and mixed-race people.
He thus exploited attempts by Vargas Llosa's followers to suggest that a Japanese immigrant's son was not a suitable president. Vargas Llosa himself disowned such comments, but even as Fujimori voted Sunday, some people shouted, "Peru for the Peruvians!" and "Little Oriental Thief!"
The Roman Catholic Church had all but endorsed Vargas Llosa, even though the writer is a professed agnostic, because Fujimori's Cambio 90 party draws heavily on Peru's booming evangelical Protestant churches for support. About one-fourth of his legislators are from such churches. The party won 14 of the 60 Senate seats and 49 of the 180 seats in the House of Deputies.
A LOOK AT PERU Peruvians elected Alberto Fujimori as their next president during elections Sunday. Here are key facts about their nation: The People: The 21 million people of Peru are mostly of mixed Spanish and Indian descent. Languages spoken are Spanish and Quechua. The official religion is Roman Catholic. The Land: The nation of 496,222 square miles is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east and Chile to the south. The Government: Peru is a parliamentary democracy with a president elected every five years. It is a member of the United Nations, the Nonaligned Movement and the so-called Group of Eight, an organization of Latin American democracies. The Economy: The per-capita annual income is $850. Principal exports are copper, zinc, lead, silver and fishmeal. The main agricultural products are coffee, cotton and sugar, and the main industry is textiles. Peru is the world's largest producer and exporter of coca, the raw material for cocaine.
Alberto Fujimori begins his five-year term as Peru's president on July 28. He will inherit a violent, bankrupt country many people believe is ungovernable. Among the problems he will face: annual inflation of 2,000%; two leftist insurgencies that have taken at least 18,500 lives in the last decade; a foreign debt of $20 billion; labor unrest in a nation where four of five people lack regular employment, and efforts to stem the country's billion-dollar coca-growing industry.