International Papers

You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit

When opposition lawmakers won control of the Peruvian Congress last week, they proposed legislation to remove President Alberto Fujimori on grounds of “moral incapacity.” This weekend, Fujimori made an unscheduled stop in Japan and dispatched his resignation.

The announcement released a flood of righteous anger from the Peruvian press. El Comercio, the country’s largest-circulation paper, declared, “Fujimori’s ill-timed resignation … incites a feeling of profound indignation because it is the pernicious corollary to an authoritarian regime, and because it takes the form of an ignoble act, lacking any ethical or personal integrity at a time when the country faces one of the worst political crises in its history.” Expreso, which until very recently supported Fujimori, described his behavior as ” shameful, cowardly, and unworthy.” Repeating a widely held view that he would seek asylum in Japan (inevitably described as his “ancestral home”), the paper said, “The circumstances of his dishonorable departure can only be compared with those of those accursed figures who in the past, as he has now, take the easy and comfortable way out in exile.” La República, for many years the lone anti-Fujimori voice, filled its triumphant editorial columns with an attack on the fallen leader’s failure to “show his face,” a call for the investigation into the regime’s corruption to continue even if Fujimori remains in Japan, and hopes for a peaceful transition.

Peru’s presidential crisis also dominated Spain’s headlines. Left-leaning Diario 16 titled its editorial “Fujimori: Game Over” and concluded: “The process that begins now won’t be easy [with the country on the edge] of institutional instability. But, as of yesterday, Peruvian democracy has one obstacle less.” La Razón, noting that Monday marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Spanish dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, headlined its editorial “Fujimori’s Nov. 20.” El País began its leader:

Fujimori’s going. The populist leader, who has dominated Peruvian politics for a decade, leapfrogging almost all democratic norms, has not found a way to prolong his hold on power for the few more months that would permit a more convenient departure.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse published in Spain’s El Mundo, Fujimori claimed he was resigning to protect the Peruvian economy, which was threatened by the climate of uncertainty and political instability. In the Japan Times, a Japanese official denied claims by ex-wife Susana Higuchi that Fujimori holds passports from both Peru and Japan. (Over the years, unsubstantiated rumors have circulated that Fujimori was born in Japan, making him ineligible for the Peruvian presidency; some conspiracy theorists have even suggested that missing spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos exercised inordinate influence over the president because he held a copy of his birth certificate.)

The Sydney Morning Herald deemed Fujimori’s downfall “a classic example of the corrupting influence of power.” It credited him with several “key achievements—defeating violent leftist guerillas, settling quarrels with Peru’s neighbours, controlling runaway inflation, combating the drug trade, freeing hostages” but ultimately found him “incurably authoritarian at heart.” The Herald expressed concern about the “instant power vacuum” created by the resignation. As first vice president, Francisco Tudela would have been next in line, but he resigned Oct. 23 when Montesinos returned from an aborted asylum in Panama (for more on the events following Montesinos’ return, see this “International Papers”). Some commentators noted that Congress has not yet approved the resignation, but as the International Herald Tribune pointed out, “Tudela may decline to serve because he is planning a possible bid for the presidency himself, and being interim president would not permit him to run.” Monday, Second Vice President Ricardo Márquez, perceived as a weak Fujimori stooge, resigned, leaving elder statesman Valentin Paniagua, who has been president of Congress only since last Thursday, as the most likely leader until elections can be held in April. La Tercera of Chile quoted Alejandro Toledo, Fujimori’s main opponent in the disputed April elections, denouncing both Tudela and Márquez as lacking legitimacy to assume the presidency because “they were elected in the same fraudulent process as Fujimori.”

More Mori: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori survived a no-confidence motion Monday, “one of the least blessed” dates in the calendar, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. The vote fell on butsumetsu, the day of the death of the Buddha, but it was lucky for Mori, who survived a mutiny by members of his own party, when Koichi Kato, a leader of the rebellion, had a last minute change of heart. Nevertheless, the consensus is that it is little more than a temporary reprieve for the prime minister, whose approval rating is less than 20 percent after just seven months in office. Britain’s Independent predicted:

Mori will almost certainly be jettisoned before the end of the year in a deal struck between faction leaders similar to the one that brought him to power after the sudden illness of his predecessor, the late Keizo Obuchi. [Opposition leader Yukio] Hatoyama predicted last night: “The Mori Cabinet was born behind closed doors, and it will be buried behind closed doors.”

Fighting to the Finnish: A story in the Observer of London recounted the travails of a tiny Finnish village, which, back in 1962, received an inheritance of 760 stocks of a rubber boot company, the dividends from which were to be used for the “entertainment” of the occupants of the village nursing home. The company, Nokia, is now the world’s biggest mobile phone manufacturer, and the $14,000 legacy is worth $35 million. In 1997, the city council, worried about the volatility of technology stocks, tried to diversify by selling a third of the bequest. Some villagers, worried that the windfall would be spent frivolously, challenged the plans, leading to a three-year legal battle. Plans are now underway to establish a foundation to oversee the sale of the shares and the disbursement of the proceeds. Meanwhile, the nursing home is “the envy of old people for miles around and there is a big waiting list to get in.” Each morning “a nurse tells those who are interested how the shares are faring.”