Lima, Peru – Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra survived the vote on Friday, ending a battle in Congress that had threatened to plunge the country into a constitutional crisis amid a devastating pandemic.
Thirty-two of the 130 deputies in Peru supported the opposition’s proposal to dismiss the president due to an alleged obstruction of justice, well below the two-thirds majority of 87 required for impeachment.
The vote, which culminated in a turbulent week of political battles between supporters and opponents of Mr. Vizcarra, paved the way for the president to end his term, which ends in July, after which he promised to leave office and defend himself in court against the charges. Of any violation.
But what the hearings revealed weakened the credibility of the Peruvian political class, seven months before the general elections in one of the Latin American countries worst affected by the epidemic.
Opposition lawmakers began impeachment measures last week after releasing a flurry of audio recordings, in which Mr. Vizcarra appeared to order his subordinates to lie to prosecutors about the influence-peddling scandal.
But their attempt to oust him began to unravel within hours, after military commanders indicated their support for Mr. Vizcarra, the former vice president from the center, and with influential opposition leaders rejecting the proposal, arguing that the country needs stability in a time of crisis.
“Peru cannot be stopped due to the content of a small number of invalid audio recordings,” said Mr. Vizcarra in a speech defending himself before Congress on Friday. “Pandemic management and economic revitalization cannot remain suspended.”
Despite implementing rapid lockdowns and accumulating large financial reserves before the pandemic, Peru now has the largest number of deaths per person from the Coronavirus in the world. Its economy, which has been the fastest growing in the region, is on the way to shrinking 12 percent this year.
Peru has a unicameral system, so Friday’s vote was the last word for Congress on impeachment. It was unclear whether Mr Vizcarra would agree to step down if lawmakers vote to impeach him, raising the possibility of a constitutional crisis.
A former governor of a remote mountainous region, Mr. Vizcarra took office two years ago, replacing the former president, Pedro Pablo Kuchinsky, who resigned after a corruption scandal.
As president, Mr. Vizcarra promised to root out entrenched corruption and clean up the country’s political system, a welcome message to many Peruvians, who are tired of the corruption and political revenge scandals that have decimated former presidents and scores of politicians, officials, judges, and businessmen in recent years.
But Mr Vizcarra has repeatedly clashed with a hostile Congress over its attempts to reform Peru’s political system, prompting him to call early legislative elections last year. That vote returned Congress even more divided and conflicted, forcing the president to rely on unlikely tactical alliances with leftists to govern.
Mr. Vizcarra is the sixth consecutive president of Peru to be accused of corruption. He cannot be formally investigated until his term ends.
The accountability crisis allowed external presidential candidates to the upcoming April elections to portray the traditional political class as disconnected from the critical problems facing Peruvians during an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
“I feel angry, frustrated and helpless,” George Forsyth, a former soccer star who is currently leading a divided field of potential presidential contenders, said on Twitter after the impeachment measures began. “These politicians are robbing us of illusion and hope.”
The impeachment attempt stems from local media reports in May that an unknown pop singer and political supporter, Richard Cisneros, had secured about $ 50,000 in government contracts to provide motivational classes to civil servants and other services. The singer had performed concerts in support of Mr. Vizcarra’s presidential ticket in the last general election in 2016, but has denied that he is ineligible or assigned to return political service.
In one of the leaked audio recordings, Mr. Vizcarra appears to be asking government officials to cover up Mr. Cisneros’ visits to the presidential palace, saying at some point “in the investigation, we are all involved”.
He heard him say, “We have to present a common front.”
Mr. Vizcarra admitted that this was his voice in the recordings, but said it had been edited and no evidence of wrongdoing emerged.