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Peru runoff vote thrown into doubt

The opposition candidate says he won't participate on May 28 and demands the voting system be cleaned up.

The opposition candidate in Peru's presidential runoff election, Alejandro Toledo, said Thursday he will pull out unless the vote is postponed from May 28 until mid-June to give international monitors more time to guarantee a clean count.

Toledo predicted in an interview that if his opponent, incumbent President Alberto Fujimori, goes ahead as planned and wins a third term on May 28, he "won't last more than two months." This was seen as a suggestion that international pressure and domestic unrest would unseat Fujimori if the election is held on schedule despite questions from Toledo and others about its fairness.

But Fujimori retorted, "The elections will not be delayed _ not even by one day.

"The people will have their say," Fujimori told cheering supporters in the central highland city of Ayacucho. "It's the people who will issue a verdict."

His firm stand set up another showdown between the Peruvian government on one side and Toledo and his international supporters, including Washington and the Organization of American States, on the other. The United States and the OAS both questioned the government's vote-counting practices after the first round on April 9, which gave Fujimori 49.89 percent to Toledo's 40.15.

As Toledo made his threat to pull out, an OAS mission here _ angered over a last-minute switch in software purchased by the government to count the runoff ballots _ also warned of the need for a delay.

Eduardo Stein, head of the OAS delegation, delivered an ultimatum to the Peruvian government to resolve irregularities and prove the computer system's effectiveness by Monday. If Peru's National Electoral Process Office, which is responsible for tabulating ballots and is widely viewed as being submissive to Fujimori, does not comply, the ultimatum said, the OAS will withdraw support for the May 28 balloting.

In the first round, fears that Fujimori's supporters were trying to use electronic fraud during the count to put him over the 50 percent needed for an outright victory caused Toledo's supporters to pour into the streets by the tens of thousands in sometimes violent protests. After an excruciatingly slow count over several days _ and after an extraordinary call from Washington for a second round even before votes were tabulated _ Fujimori finished a hair under the 50 percent mark.

Since then, the emphasis by Toledo and U.S. and OAS diplomats has been to make sure the counting system for the runoff is foolproof. But so far, Toledo said, his lieutenants have been unable to verify that they can trust the government computer system that will be used for the count.

"The thing is that the political will has not changed; Fujimori is not being sincere about changing the race to have truly democratic elections; and technically, it's impossible to prove the computer systems incorruptible by fraud by May 28th," Toledo said.

He said he sent an official letter to Fujimori on Thursday informing him of his decision, declaring: "And under those conditions, it's impossible to take part in elections on that date. It would be laughing at democracy." Toledo called for a new election date of June 18 and added that he would participate then only under what he called democratic conditions.

Toledo's announcement was seen as an attempt to pressure Fujimori to make the counting process more credible and to even the campaign's playing field during what were to be its final days. But analysts cautioned that, although Toledo could be bluffing and may jump back into the race if Fujimori doesn't blink, his comments have thrown the elections _ even the stability of this strategically key South American nation _ into question.

Populist declared next

Dominican president

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic _ Left-leaning populist Hipolito Mejia was declared the winner of the Dominican presidential race Thursday after his opponents withdrew from a runoff election.

Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party and ex-President Joaquin Balaguer both said they were leaving the race because a second round would cause instability and damage the economy. "For the good of the country, we waive our right to participate in a second round," Medina said.

Reynaldo Pared, the Liberation Party delegate on the Central Electoral Board, said Medina made the decision after failing to strike an alliance with Balaguer.

With votes from only 18 of 11,422 polling stations remaining to be counted from Tuesday's election, officials said Mejia, of the center-left Dominican Revolutionary Party, had 49.86 percent of the vote, just short of the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a June 30 runoff. Free-market advocate Medina had 24.95 percent; Balaguer, 93, won 24.61 percent.

Foreign election observers said they were satisfied with the developments and affirmed that Tuesday's vote was fair.

"If they had to have a second round, it would have been okay, but this will be better for the Dominican people," said Richard Soudriette, president of the International Foundation for Elections Systems.

Mejia, 59, a former director of the Dominican Tobacco Institute, will be inaugurated Aug. 16. He criticized outgoing President Leonel Fernandez's administration for failing to relieve poverty and has promised to spend more on social programs.

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