Peru president offers resignation amid vote-buying scandal

09:13 • 22.03.18



After less than two years in office, Peru’s embattled president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, offered his resignation on Wednesday, a day after the release of videos that showed key allies trying to buy the support of opposition lawmakers.


Mr Kuczynski had spent months fighting off attempts to oust him, and he had vowed not to resign. But he faced an impeachment trial set for Thursday, which he appeared likely to lose, and the release of the videos made his decision inevitable, the New York Times reports.


Late last year, after Mr. Kuczynski had been accused of wrongdoing in an international graft scandal involving construction contracts, he pardonedformer President Alberto Fujimori, who had been convicted of human rights violations. The pardon appeared to be part of a deal with one of Mr. Fujimori’s sons, a congressman who controlled enough votes to save Mr. Kuczynski from being removed from office at the time.


But it was the secretly recorded tapes — which appeared to show allies of Mr. Kuczynski’s soliciting support with offers of big rewards to lawmakers — that prompted his decision on Wednesday. Among the offers, according to the tapes, were lunches with the president, the authority to appoint government officials, expedited public works projects and even the chance to keep some public money.


“I don’t want to be an obstacle for our nation as it finds the path to unity and harmony that it needs so much,” said Mr. Kuczynski in a televised statement on the grounds of the presidential palace.


The president said he had done nothing wrong. He said the leaked recordings had been edited in a “selectively biased way that gave the impression that the government was offering public works in exchange of votes.”


Analysts said that the resignation did not bode well for Latin America, where Peru’s economic stability has contrasted with growing political turmoil.


“This is not a good precedent for Peru or for the region, that an opposition could essentially force out the president this way,” said Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group in Washington. “Peru has been a puzzle and a paradox — it’s been such an economic performer, but you have such weak political institutions.”


It is still unclear whether Congress will decide to accept Mr. Kuczynski’s resignation or choose to impeach him anyway. This happened to Mr. Fujimori, who resigned in 2000 after fleeing to Japan. Congress rejected his resignation and impeached him instead. Years later he faced trial in Peru, and the country’s Supreme Court sentenced him to 25 years in prison on human rights violations.


Lawmakers on Wednesday expressed anger that Mr. Kuczynski had not apologized.


“We hoped that his resignation letter would have at least some self-criticism of the mistakes and crimes he may have committed,” said Marco Arana, who leads the leftist Broad Front. “Instead, he just plays the victim in his letter and doesn’t admit anything.”


Mr. Kuczynski was set to be replaced by his vice president, Martín Vizcarra, who is also serving now as ambassador to Canada. Mr. Vizcarra himself was once forced by Congress to resign when he served in Mr. Kuczynski’s cabinet, although opposition lawmakers have in recent weeks spoken highly of him. Mr. Vizcarra has not spoken publicly about the controversy, and it was not clear on Wednesday whether he was even in Peru.


“This was a government that carved its tomb from Day 1,” said Eduardo Dargent, a political scientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “Looking forward, it’s very unclear what will happen.”


Mr. Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker and World Bank economist who was educated at Oxford and Princeton, campaigned in 2016 on a liberal platform that promised economic growth and “social revolution.” He narrowly beat Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former leader.


Last year, Congress accused Mr. Kuczynski of “permanent moral incapacity” for profiting from contracts with Odebrecht, the Brazilian corporate giant now troubled by scandal, during a period in the early 2000s when he served as a cabinet member. Mr. Kuczynski said he was merely a shareholder in a company that profited from Odebrecht deals.


Congress’s impeachment effort had been enthusiastically supported by the Popular Force, the party led by Ms. Fujimori.

 





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