PERU : New Constitution Could Extend Fujimori's Power


LIMA, Peru — The Peruvian Congress is putting the finishing touches on a new constitution that could pave the way for President Alberto Fujimori to stay in power until the end of the century.

Fujimori's current five-year term expires in 1995. The draft constitution, expected to receive final congressional approval soon, would allow the president to run for reelection to a second, successive term.

That is prohibited by Peru's 1979 constitution--as it is by most constitutions in Latin America, which has a history of multiple-term autocrats and dictators.

Backed by the Peruvian army, Fujimori shut down the previous Congress in April, 1992, unilaterally suspending parts of the constitution. He argued that the Congress, controlled by opposition parties, was obstructing his efforts to fight terrorism, poverty and corruption.

Under pressure from democratic countries, including the United States, Fujimori called elections last November for a "Democratic Constituent Congress." With most major opposition parties refusing to participate, the president's supporters won a majority in the 80-member body.

By and large, this Congress has drafted the new constitution to Fujimori's specifications. For example, it will permit the death penalty for terrorists convicted of treason, something Fujimori has repeatedly advocated.

It also provides for a single-chamber Congress instead of the bicameral legislative branch that has been traditional in Peru. And it will allow the president to dissolve the Congress if it passes no-confidence measures twice against his Cabinet.

Fujimori's opponents and some independent observers say those and other measures in the new constitution will tilt the balance of government power heavily in favor of the president.

"It will be easier for the president to dominate the Congress," a foreign diplomat predicted. "Compared to the '79 constitution, it gives the president far more power."

Although Fujimori has not announced that he will be a candidate, few doubt that he wants to run.

"He's on the campaign, running for reelection," the diplomat said.

In public appearances, the president asserts that his administration is bringing Peru out of a deep economic depression and is defeating Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the Maoist guerrilla movement. Opinion polls have been giving Fujimori approval ratings of 60% and more.

If the ratings fall before presidential elections, obviously, Fujimori is less likely to win. Perhaps with that in mind, he has suggested that presidential elections might be held in 1994 instead of 1995. But the Congress has not set a date so far.

The Congress also has yet to specify details of a planned referendum on the constitution. Fujimori's supporters want a referendum on a few key constitutional provisions, while the opposition wants a plebiscite on the whole charter.

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