Peru’s President Heads for Crucial Week as Impeachment Falters

Peruvian opposition leaders backed away from impeaching President Martin Vizcarra, who faces a decisive week after lawmakers alleged he tried to obstruct a graft investigation.

With Peru at risk of political disarray during its deepest recession in a century, pro-impeachment forces pulled back after the government said the leader of Congress called senior military officers before the vote on the impeachment motion.

Congress is scheduled to vote on the motion on Friday after giving Vizcarra, who doesn’t have a party to defend him in the legislature, a chance to make his case for staying on. Cabinet chief Walter Martos said the government will ask the Constitutional Court on Monday to halt the impeachment proceedings.

After the revelations about Congress President Manuel Merino’s alleged contacts with the military, the pro-impeachment We Can party rejected what it said were efforts to “push around” the armed forces for political gain. Party spokesman Daniel Urresti withdrew backing for impeachment, citing “dark maneuvers” by Merino.

Alliance For Progress founder Cesar Acuna, whose party provided about a third of the votes in favor of starting impeachment proceedings on Friday, said on Twitter that the motion would worsen the political crisis. He called for investigations of Vizcarra.

In a televised address, Martos said “anti-democratic sectors” with “hidden interests” were trying to destabilize Peru’s democratic order at a time when the country is facing a devastating health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The turmoil in one of Latin America’s most politically volatile nations risks weighing on an economy battered by Covid-19. With the world’s highest per-capita deaths from the coronavirus, Peru’s gross domestic productshrank by 30% in the second quarter, the worst slump of any major economy.

The government said on Saturday that Merino made calls to senior members of the armed forces Thursday, hours before the impeachment motion was presented to parliament. The military officials informed Defense Minister Jorge Chavez about the calls.

If Vizcarra is impeached, the head of Congress would replace him until the next general election, which is due in April. Vizcarra has said he won’t seek another term.

Vizcarra is the second Peruvian leader facing impeachment proceedings in less than three years. His predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned after an opposition lawmaker released videos that showed his allies apparently negotiating votes to stave off his ouster. Two other former presidents are under investigation for graft and another one is in prison.

Power Struggles

Since replacing Kuczynski in 2018, Vizcarra, 57, has tried to overhaul the nation’s judicial and political systems, frequently clashing with lawmakers in the process. Hedissolved the previous legislature last year.

Prosecutors and lawmakers this year began probing alleged irregularities in the government’s hiring of a little-known singer to give motivational talks at the Culture Ministry. Richard Cisneros, the singer in question, is alleged to have used contacts in the presidential palace to obtain contracts totaling about $50,000.

On Thursday morning, lawmakers heard tapes of Vizcarra appearing to speak to officials about Cisneros’ visits to the presidential palace. Less than 12 hours later, they presented a motion to unseat him.

Congress will also vote on a motion to remove Finance Minister Maria Antonieta Alva on Monday, alleging she didn’t do enough to prevent the economic slump during the pandemic.

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