Observers question validity of coming Peru election

Poll watchers associated with corruption remain


LIMA, Peru - Two weeks before the final round of Peru's presidential election, international observers say they again have serious concerns that President Alberto K. Fujimori might be preparing to steal enough votes May 28 to ensure that he wins a third term.

A month ago, opposition candidates and election monitors accused the government of widespread vote tampering after a campaign marred by smear tactics and dirty tricks.

A crisis was averted only when electoral authorities announced that Fujimori had fallen just short of an outright first-round victory.

Now talks between the government and opposition to improve election monitoring have collapsed over the government's refusal to replace poll watchers who reportedly took part in the tampering of ballots in the first vote.

Alejandro Toledo, the business school professor who has staged a surprisingly strong challenge to Fujimori, is threatening to pull out of the race rather than lend credibility to a process he characterizes as hopelessly flawed.

Observers from the Organization of American States say they receive reports that officials involved in handing out milk and cereals to poor mothers mix political propaganda with the food aid.

Independent observers say Fujimori's intelligence service appears to continue to orchestrate coverage of the campaign in tabloid newspapers and a political magazine called Si, which depict Toledo as unstable, a drinker, a liar and a tool of Alan Garcia, an ex-president who lives in exile to escape corruption charges.

The independence of the election apparatus remains in question. Senior officials who presided over the first round remain in place. And a government investigation into evidence that the Fujimori campaign forged a million signatures to get him on the ballot has stalled.

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