LIMA, Peru — After a marathon debate that became an outpouring of accumulated rage and political grudges, Peru's Congress on Tuesday rejected President Alberto Fujimori's resignation and instead ousted him on the grounds that he is morally unfit to hold office.
The ouster was the political equivalent of an indictment and conviction, a symbolic punishment of Fujimori for the collapse of his scandal-plagued regime and for his decision Monday to resign while in Japan and take refuge there. It was approved by 62 of the 111 legislators present and opposed by 9. Nine legislators abstained and the remainder, a group of Fujimori die-hards who wanted to accept the resignation, walked out in protest.
After the vote at 10:45 p.m., legislators cheered and sang, "The dictatorship has fallen."
The ouster ensured that Congress President Valentin Paniagua will succeed Fujimori as president, giving anti-Fujimori forces control of the government after his 10 years in office. Congress was expected today to elect Paniagua, a bespectacled and dignified constitutional law expert who is respected by rival political factions. He will lead a difficult transition preceding early elections in April.
An era in which politics came to resemble war by other means is coming to a close, but the tone was still rancorous Tuesday.
Legislator after legislator rose to denounce the disgraced Fujimori and his allies.
"This is a moral crisis without precedent in Peru," lawmaker Carlos Burgos said. "This puts Peru in the first rank of corruption in Latin America."
Legislators accused Fujimori of leaving Peru because he feared being implicated in the scandals that toppled Vladimiro Montesinos, his fugitive former spy chief. Prosecutors are investigating Montesinos on allegations of money laundering tied to overseas bank accounts, protection of drug lords, gunrunning to Colombian narco-guerrillas and judicial corruption. Those cases have been expanded in recent days to investigate Fujimori's possible involvement.
And legislators accused Fujimori of using his mysterious trip to Asia to withdraw secret funds--some said to be linked to Montesinos--that the president allegedly held in Singapore and transferred to Japanese banks.
Fujimori responded with an emphatic denial during a news conference in Tokyo.
"It is speculated that I could have accounts overseas, in Singapore, Switzerland, Tokyo or other places," Fujimori said. "I deny that I have $18 million and that I have effected transfers in Singapore or someplace else. I do not have a single account overseas. Totally false. I have absolutely no relationship to the $48 million" in Swiss bank accounts linked to Montesinos.
Fujimori said he doesn't intend to return to Peru "for a long time." He acknowledged the rage and sadness he has left behind.
"I understand this perfectly," he said. "But let there be no doubt that I am working for the same objectives for which I have always worked."
Peruvians have spent a decade trying to fathom a leader whose victories and defeats were equally a product of his singular, enigmatic personality. Many Peruvians tolerated his heavy-handed ways because they accepted his image as the only man who could control a tough nation: He portrayed himself as a Latin American "providential" ruler with the added virtues of Asian discipline and efficiency.
Fujimori was always a lone-wolf leader as well. He divorced early in his presidency, grew distant from family members and kept the number of his civilian aides to a bare minimum, surrounding himself chiefly with a fiercely loyal corps of military aides-de-camp and guards.
His exile appears to have deepened the solitude of his years in power; it was notable that his daughter and first lady, Keiko, remained in Lima, the Peruvian capital, when her father traveled to Japan.
"I am going to stay here in Peru," Keiko told reporters, wearing sunglasses and looking tired. Television cameras followed her as she removed belongings from the abandoned presidential palace Tuesday and moved to the home of relatives. She hugged grim-faced palace guards and waved goodbye to other employees as a chauffeur drove her away.
Keiko Fujimori had grown close to her father in recent months, playing a key role in his decision to fire Montesinos and cut short his five-year presidential term with next year's elections. But she was disappointed by his bombshell from Tokyo because she had wanted him to end his presidency with his head held high, according to sources close to the first lady.
Meanwhile, Fujimori's ex-wife, lawmaker Susana Higuchi, accused her former husband of "an act of cowardice." She demanded that he come back to Peru to face the consequences of his actions.
Fujimori has set "a bad example that we should not follow," Higuchi said. "All Peruvians . . . should realize that the truth catches up with lies in the end. As a man and a Peruvian, he should return."