Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was never going to have an easy time in office. He squeaked past a tough rival in the June 2016 election, only to face a legislature where that same opponent enjoyed a clear majority and was set on bringing him down.
That looked imminent late last year when 93 out of the 130 lawmakers who make up Peru’s Congress backed an impeachment vote against him over his association with Odebrecht – the Brazilian construction company whose admissions of paying bribes have brought down a series of politicians across Latin America.
At the eleventh hour, however, a family rift split the opposition Popular Force and the impeachment vote was defeated. But demonstrators took to the streets for the fourth time to protest his controversial pardon of longtime President Alberto Fujimori this week – and called for his resignation, the BBC reported.
Kuczynski reshuffled his cabinet to try to shore up support earlier this week. But his handling of the impeachment effort has fanned fears of a resurgence of the right-wing movement whose ruthless tactics defeated the Shining Path insurgency in the 1990s – and resulted in charges of crimes against humanity for Fujimori.
From the outset, Kuczynski raised the specter of that era by calling the impeachment proceedings a “coup disguised as supposedly legitimate legal interpretations.”
Then, many suspected him of offering a quid pro quo when he pardoned Fujimori halfway into a 25-year jail sentence for graft and human-rights convictions a week after the impeachment was defeated. The reason: Fujimori’s son Kenji split with the ex-strongman’s elder daughter Keiko – the leader of the Popular Force party – and abstained from the vote, along with nine followers.
“The pardon’s for President Kuczynski, it’s not for Fujimori,” leftist lawmaker Marisa Glave said on Lima television station Canal N.
While Kuczynski insisted there was no backroom deal, many remained convinced otherwise, Bloomberg reported.
Of greater concern to some observers, Kuczynski also defended Fujimori’s controversial reign as police fired tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters in downtown Lima on Christmas Day, according to Reuters.
Fujimori committed “significant legal transgressions regarding democracy and human rights,” Reuters quoted Kuczynski as saying in a televised address. “But I also think his government contributed to national progress.”
Where the controversy will lead is anybody’s guess.
Unlike a raft of politicians in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru itself, Kuczynski has never been accused of taking bribes.
Instead, he’s accused of lying about payments he received as an advisor for Odebrecht – at a time when he claims he was not the decision maker at his company Westfield Capital Ltd.
If he does go down and his fall triggers new elections, that could pave the way for Keiko Fujimori to replace him, noted the Economist. But her first name is also featured in the paper trail related to the Odebrecht scandal – though she insists it must refer to some other Keiko.