Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (R) addresses lawmakers of the opposition-ruled Congress next to President of Congress Luis Galarreta, in Lima, Peru December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
LIMA - 22 December 2017: Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski told lawmakers they would jeopardize hard-earned democratic gains in the Andean nation if they approve a motion to oust him on Thursday, after he denied any wrongdoing in the wake of a corruption scandal.
The political uncertainty in Peru, the world's No.2 copper producer and one of Latin America's most stable economies, has unsettled investors, especially after Kuczynski signaled on the eve of the vote that his government would seek to trigger elections if Congress removes him from office.
Opposition lawmakers want to remove Kuczynski on the grounds he is "morally unfit" to lead, after finding that companies linked to him once received payments from Odebrecht, a company at the center of Latin America's biggest graft scandal.
Kuczynski, who repeatedly denied any ties to the company, said there was nothing improper about the transactions. The real goal of the opposition-controlled Congress, he said, was to usurp his presidency and democratic order, threatening a retreat into Peru's authoritarian past.
"What's at stake is not whether I remain in office: what's at stake is democratic stability," Kuczynski told lawmakers before they started a debate on whether to dismiss him. "Don't support this baseless ouster, because the people will not forgive you."
Congress is controlled by the right-wing party Popular Force which emerged from a populist movement started by imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.
Now led by Fujimori's daughter, Keiko Fujimori, Popular Force has denied Kuczynski's accusations and said it is only seeking to root out corruption in public office, no matter how high.
"It would be constitutional and democratic," for Congress to vote out Kuczynski, Popular Force lawmaker Ursula Letona told her colleagues in Congress, likening the possibility to the impeachment in Brazil last year of then-President Dilma Rousseff.
However, Kuczynski's government expects the opposition to fall at least three votes short of the 87 required to oust him, after persuading around 10 lawmakers who backed a motion to start the proceedings last month to switch sides, a government source said.
But Keiko Fujimori faces competition in her party's ranks from her younger brother, Kenji, who opposed the motion to oust Kuczynski on Thursday.
"We've opted not to support the vacancy," Kenji said in a video he posted on Twitter, without specifying who else he was speaking for. It was unclear if Kenji could sway others in Popular Force to join him.
Amid speculation of last-minute backroom deals, Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz called a press conference in Congress to say that Kuczynski's government was not seeking votes in exchange for freeing Fujimori from prison.
"That's not something that's negotiated," Araoz said.
The perception that Kuczynski would free Fujimori in exchange for votes of support could prompt leftist lawmakers now supporting Kuczynski to back ousting him office, or possibly encourage some of Fujimori's loyalists to oppose it.
A spokesman in the justice ministry said Fujimori recently asked Kuczynski to release him by reducing his 25-year prison sentence for graft and human rights violations. The request reached the presidential pardon's committee last week, he added.
After Congress ousted the finance minister in June, Kuczynski said he would evaluate pardoning Fujimori and would make a decision by the end of the year.
But he has since seized on warnings by Fujimori's foes, who alleged at the start of his government that Popular Force would seek to remove him from the presidency to punish him for unexpectedly defeating Keiko Fujimori in last year's election.
Global consultancy Teneo Intelligence said that even if Kuczynski pulls off another surprise victory, it would likely be followed by more frequent clashes between the executive and legislative branches.
"Survival today would leave governability problems intact, and fail to ensure even short-term political stability," Teneo's Senior Vice President Nicholas Watson said.