Peru President Vizcarra survives impeachment vote

Lima (AFP) –


Peru's President Martin Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote in Congress on Friday as his opponents failed to win the votes necessary to remove him from power.

Congress had voted last week to open impeachment proceedings against the 57-year-old president for "moral incapacity" over accusations he incited aides to lie to anti-graft investigators.

After a 10-hour debate, during which Vizcarra gave a brief statement at the beginning, only 32 legislators voted for his dismissal, while 78 voted against and 15 abstained.

"The request for vacancy has not been approved," congressional speaker Manuel Marino said after the vote.

The opposition needed 87 votes, out of 130, to dismiss the popular leader.

Vizcarra had remained defiant earlier Friday when he delivered a statement at the start of the Congressional debate.

"I'm not running. I didn't do it before and I'm not going to do it now," he said before leaving his defense to his lawyer Roberto Pereira.

"I propose that the request for impeachment on the ground of moral incapacity be dismissed. It is evident that this motion suffers from a minimum elementary classification of the facts."

The heated session was opened by Marino, who would have replaced Vizcarra as Peru's leader had the impeachment carried.

He began by calling on members present in the chamber to avoid any intolerant gestures towards the head of state, although most of the 130 lawmakers joined the debate by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a heavy toll in the South American country.

Vizcarra has accused Marino of "conspiracy" by trying to secure military assurances for a bid to succeed him.

Analysts had predicted his opponents in Congress would fall short of the 87 votes needed to oust him.

- Public support -

Vizcarra's cabinet petitioned the Constitutional Court this week on the grounds the legislature had exceeded its powers and was not competent in seeking to rule on the president's moral capacity.

But the Court ruled by five votes to two to allow the vote.

Vizcarra, in power since 2018, came under fire after audio recordings were leaked, in which he is heard telling aides to hide details from congressional investigators of his office's controversial hiring of a popular singer as a paid cultural advisor.

Public support for the president and his anti-corruption campaign has been evident in opinion polls, with eight out of 10 Peruvians wanting him to continue until the end of his mandate in July 2021.

Peruvians also made their support clear on social networks and in pot-banging street protests.

The president's main rival, Keiko Fujimori, has publicly acknowledged that "there are not enough elements" to remove him from power.

- 'No one wins' -

"The speed at which this process has been played out reflects a crisis in the institutions," said political analyst Augusto Alvarez Rodrich.

"No one wins here, the executive loses as does Congress, because people see there are two branches of government locked in a political battle while a pandemic is killing Peruvians and creating a shocking level of unemployment that will take five years to recover from."

Pressure on Vizcarra had appeared to ease already on Tuesday when his star economy minister, Maria Antonieta Alva, survived a censure motion in Congress.

He had begun the week pushing back against his opponents, going on television to insist he was the victim of a conspiracy after an anti-corruption crusade that has put him and his minority government at loggerheads with Congress.

Vizcarra's four predecessors have all been investigated for corruption.