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In Peru, Presidential Impeachment Is No Idle Threat

4 MINS READDec 20, 2017 | 09:00 GMT
People protest against corruption in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 16, 2017, as the presidency of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski hangs in the balance while the opposition, which controls Congress, demands he steps down or face impeachment over graft allegations linked to Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

People protest against corruption in Lima, Peru, on Dec. 16, 2017, as the presidency of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski hangs in the balance while the opposition, which controls Congress, demands he steps down or face impeachment over graft allegations linked to Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

(ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Highlights

  • Peru's Popular Force and other opposition parties plan to vote Dec. 21 whether to impeach President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. But his possible removal for allegedly receiving illegal payments in the mid-2000s would not radically affect the country's politics or economy. 
  • Popular Force will likely demand that the president make some concessions, such as releasing former President Alberto Fujimori from prison, in exchange for dropping its calls for his removal.
  • Popular Force appears to have enough support in Congress to impeach Kuczynski. If Kuczynski is removed from power, it will weaken the administration and embolden the Congressional opposition.

Peru may vote out its president by the end of the week. The country's largest opposition party, Popular Force, has demanded President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign or face an impeachment vote Dec. 21. Kuczynski has been implicated in a corruption scandal related to payments Brazil's largest construction firm, Odebrecht, made to Peruvian officials. Investigators uncovered more than $700,000 in what lawmakers claim were unreported payments to Kuczynski from 2004 to 2012 while he was in public service. From 2004 to 2005, Kuczynski was economic minister under former President Alejandro Toledo Manrique. From 2005 to 2006, he was the country's prime minister. Though impeaching a president is never an idle threat, Kuczynski's removal may not actually change much politically or economically. 

Popular Force controls 71 of the 130 seats in Congress. The party would need 87 votes — or two-thirds of Congress — to impeach Kuczynski if he refuses to resign, which it may be able to get with the cooperation of other opposition parties. So far, the Popular Front coalition seems a likely partner that would give Popular Force the votes it needs. The leftist Broad Front and smaller parties such as the Alliance for Progress and the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance are also calling for Kuczynski to resign. All told 97 opposition legislators tentatively back impeachment.

If Kuczynski is removed from power, it will weaken Peru's government, but major political backlash in the form of protests or political instability are highly unlikely. Kuczynski is a technocrat ruling over a recently formed minority coalition and lacks the political networks to mobilize masses of voters in his defense. His departure may sow doubt among foreign investors about the future stability of Peruvian politics, but it won't shift the country in a radically different political direction. Both Popular Force and Kuczynski's Peruvians for Change coalition are center-right, and their general political and economic policies aren't that different.

The opposition's demand for the president's resignation is part of a wider political confrontation between the president and Popular Force, which goes back to the hotly contested 2016 presidential election. Kuczynski bested Popular Force leader Keiko Fujimori by only a quarter of a percentage point in that race. Following the election, Popular Force censured several of Kuczynski's Cabinet ministers and delayed legislation proposed by the government. A potential presidential candidate in 2021 elections, Fujimori is also under investigation for allegedly receiving unreported payments from Odebrecht. And that investigation is likely driving the Popular Force's demand for Kuczynski's resignation.

Whether Kuczynski will be impeached depends in large part on his willingness to offer concessions to the opposition. Popular Force will likely want him to drop the investigation against Fujimori, though it may be difficult for him to do so. After all, it's an important source of leverage against the opposition. A pardon for Keiko Fujimori's father, former President Alberto Fujimori who is convicted of unlawful killings, is also a possible concession that could be made. The younger Fujimori has demanded her father's release since Kuczynski came to power. Kuczynski may also give smaller parties in Congress concessions so that they drop their support for the impeachment bid. But if he refuses to entertain negotiations with Fujimori's coalition, Popular Force will be more likely to vote for impeachment. Though the immediate political consequences of an impeachment would be minor, it would tarnish the reputation of and create investor concern over one of the most stable economies in Latin America.

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