Peruvian president beats the odds to survive impeachment attempt

The president, accused of involvement in bribery scheme, saved by 21 abstentions

Peru's president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has defied expectations by surviving an impeachment vote in congress called after he was accused of involvement in a bribery scheme.

The country’s opposition parties thought it had the votes to strip Mr Kuczynski of his mandate going into Thursday’s extraordinary parliamentary session. But after a marathon 14-hour debate that only wound up in the early hours of Friday, they fell short of the 87 votes necessary.

The president was saved by 21 abstentions, as 79 deputies voted for his impeachment while only 19 sided with him in the 130-member unicameral legislature. Some opposition members were furious after the result, with one claiming the president had ensured his survival by promising to free the country's imprisoned former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

Ten members of the main opposition party Popular Force abstained in the vote. The party is led by Mr Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, who has waged a relentless campaign for her father’s release. She lost last year’s presidential election to Mr Kuczynski by just 0.25 per cent of the poll.


Gone guerrillas

Her father, now 79 and in poor health, is serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption and human rights abuses committed during his decade in power, which ended in 2000. Loathed and feared by many Peruvians, Mr Fujimori nevertheless remains a hero for a significant minority who view him as the leader who ended hyperinflation and defeated the fanatical Shining Path guerrilla movement.

Mr Kuczynski’s administration denied it had offered a pardon for Mr Fujimori in exchange for votes to save his mandate. After his survival the president called for national reconciliation.

He is accused of accepting corrupt payments from Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht. The massive bribery scandal involving the firm has already helped topple Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and sparked investigations into authorities across three continents. Mr Kuczynski immediate predecessor, Ollanta Humala, and his wife, Nadine Heredia, are currently in jail in Peru after both were accused of accepting bribes from Odebrecht.

Alejandro Toledo, the leader who toppled Mr Fujimori, has also been named in the case and is sought by Peruvian prosecutors. He says he is the victim of political persecution and is fighting efforts to return him to Peru.

Some of the payments Odebrecht made to a company linked to Mr Kuczynski took place when he was serving as economy minister in the Toledo administration. In a personal address to congress on Thursday he denied any wrongdoing, saying he knew nothing of the company’s relationship with Odebrecht as his partner was running it while he served in government.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America