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International Observers Warn Of Fraud in Peruvian Elections

By Anthony Faiola

Partial results released Monday appeared to push President Alberto Fujimori near the threshhold of an outright victory in Sunday’s presidential election. But international observers, including the U.S. government, said Fujimori did not receive enough votes to avoid a runoff with his leading rival, suggesting that they would view a claim of victory by the president as tainted by fraud.

Incomplete results trickling in one day after voting that many observers said was marred by irregularities, Peru’s electoral body gave Fujimori 49.88 percent compared with 39.98 percent for Alejandro Toledo. Fujimori needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a June runoff against Toledo, a former shoeshine boy turned U.S.-educated economist who is trying to become the first Indian president of modern Peru. Announcement of the returns was delayed more than 12 hours.

But international observers said that five independent surveys of ballots conducted after the voting, including one by the Organization of American States, indicated that Fujimori, who is seeking an unprecedented third term, fell at least 1 to 3 percentage points short of a majority. They warned that a first round victory would indicate electronic tampering with the vote count.

“A first round victory simply would not be a politically acceptable result for the Peruvian electorate or the international community,” said Eduardo Stein, head of the OAS observer mission. “And it would have grave repercussions for Peru.”

After a private meeting with Toledo, U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton told reporters that the United States “expects a second round of voting in Peru.” Toledo said he would not recognize the results of an election he said was tainted by fraud. The final vote count may not be completed until Tuesday or Wednesday.

The presidential race in Peru is viewed internationally as a key test of democracy in Latin America and of the willingness of leaders in the region’s young and troubled democracies to leave power.