In a dramatic and unexpected move, Peru's President Alberto Fujimori announced a new round of general elections late Saturday, and said that he would not stand as a candidate in the upcoming vote.
The surprise announcement, nationally-broadcast on radio and television, effectively marked the Peruvian leader's resignation from office, although it was not clear exactly when elections would be held or how soon he would withdraw from political life.
Fujimori said that the vote would be held "in the near future."
He told television viewers that he had reached the decision to hold immediate elections, "after a period of deep reflection," adding that "the person who is now speaking will not be a candidate."
The bombshell comes barely four months after Fujimori was reelected for a third consecutive five-year term, with nearly 52 percent of the vote.
The announcement of his early departure was especially surprising because Fujimori has held a tenacious grip on the presidency over the past decade, using a vast array of political stratagems over the years -- from suspending the constitution to dissolving Congress -- to maintain his hold on power.
The political upheaval appeared to be fallout from a corruption scandal, which has rocked Peru over the past few days, after the head of the National Intelligence Service (SIN) was shown in a 58-minute video apparently handing a bribe to a former member of the Peruvian opposition.
In the video, SIN chief Vladimiro Montesinos was seen handing over 15,000 dollars in cash to Alberto Kouri, a former member of Peru Posible who recently switched to Fujimori's Peru 2000 party.
A voice on the video, apparently that of Montesinos, is clearly heard asking Kouri, "How much? Here are 10, you tell me."
As he takes another envelope from his pocket, the voice is heard saying, "Ten plus five, fifteen."
Fujimori heeded international calls to act in the scandal, telling Peruvians late Saturday that he had decided to dismantle the intelligence service.
Only hours before Fujimori announced his departure Saturday, the Organization of American States (OAS) urged Peru's government to suspend Montesinos, saying the corruption allegations were "of the utmost gravity."
Adding insult to injury for Fujimori, is that his ex-wife, Susana Higuchi -- now among his most ardent adversaries -- announced the existence of the incriminating video late Thursday, before it was broadcast across the nation by the Canal N cable TV channel. Higuchi is now an opposition congress member with the Moralizing Independent Front (FIM) party.
Opposition groups in Peru said the film footage provided irrefutable proof that Fujimori had used bribes to win political opponents to his side, thereby gaining control of the national Congress after this year's elections.
During the elections in April, Fujimori's party managed to win just 53 of a possible 120 congressional seats. But that number rose to nearly 70 by the time he took office on July 28, as members of the opposition Peru Posible party suspiciously defected en masse.
The video was allegedly filmed on May 5, mid-way between the two rounds of the election.
Public outrage and political pressure on Fujimori mounted steadily over the weekend after the scandal came to light, with ex-presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo called on the president to resign and for a one-year transitional government to be installed.
Early Sunday, Toledo issued a call to Peru's opposition parties to rally around one candidate, to increase the odds of succeeding Fujimori.
Toledo expressed the hope that "no external factors would impede" Fujimori's stated intention to leave the presidency
Spontaneous celebrations erupted throughout the city following Fujimori's speech. In Lima's central square early Sunday, scores of jubilant protesters celebrated the end of the Fujimori regime, shouting, "The dictatorship has fallen!"
A phalanx of police stood nearby to keep the peace, as some revelers told Peruvian television that they had congregated on the square in the hope of being joined there by parliamentarians from Peru's opposition parties -- LIMA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )