Peru's election that failed


ALMOST NO ONE in or out of Peru thinks that its runoff election for president last Sunday was on the level. Challenger Alejandro Toledo dropped out and urged Peruvians to boycott or deface their ballot paper. Half the electorate obliged.

If Mr. Toledo might be charged with sour grapes, the same cannot be said for the Organization of American States, whose official observer also pulled out.

So it is surprising that the United States failed to get an OAS special meeting to allow collective action by the American republics. But the group did put Peru's election on the agenda of the OAS foreign ministers' meeting that starts in Canada tomorrow.

President Alberto Fujimori, who awarded himself a third term, presents a problem for Washington. He cooperates on narcotics interdiction and replacing the coca economy of the Andean highlands. He squelched terrorism and revived Peru's economy.

But not enough, and not for too many poor Indian peasants. The U.S. interest in drug enforcement collides with the U.S. interest in strong, stable democracy.

So far, market economics are working like sanctions. Peru, despite promising economic figures, has trouble selling bonds when credit rating agencies worry about its stability and legitimacy.

U.S. diplomats should organize strong OAS pressure on Mr. Fujimori to get him to re-stage the runoff election under fair circumstances. But Washington should not act alone. That would be counterproductive. There must be collective action.

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