After some 11 hours of congressional debate, apologies to the nation and a hastily mounted legal defence, Peru 79-year-old leader Pedro Pablo Kuczynski won a reprieve after it looked near certain he would be pushed out of office after just 16 months for undeclared business ties to the scandal-riddled Brazilian builder Odebrecht.
Faced with a seemingly insurmountable number of congressional votes against him from the majority opposition party Fuerza Popular (71), the hard-left Frente Amplio (10) as well as lawmakers in smaller parties, Kuczynski’s salvation came from where it was least expected. From within the party which wanted his head from the start.
Fuerza Popular has its roots in the 1990s populist and authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori who is in jail for authorising death squad killings, corruption and vote-rigging. His daughter Keiko is the party’s leader who narrowly lost the last two presidential elections in the second round (2011,2016).
It was her younger brother Kenji who broke ranks leading a group of nine lawmakers from Fuerza Popular in abstaining from parliamentary vote. Kuczynski , popularly known as PPK, survived impeachment by just eight votes, so those abstentions were absolutely crucial. For Kenji it was a break with the party line and points to a widely-rumoured sibling rivalry with his elder sister Keiko, who tightly controls the group.
Peru’s congress was to push through a hasty coup, and revert the country to its authoritarian past. The party is led by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) who is in jail for authorising death squad killings, corruption and vote-rigging.
Even Kuczynski himself admits he is not a great communicator. The Oxford and Princeton-educated leader is widely regarded as one of the world’s technocratic elite but he’s not a natural politician.
He must avoid the “clumsy mistakes and distance himself from his business past” if he is to see out his term, says Eduardo Dargent, a political scientist at Lima’s Catholic University.
“He’ll need more political intelligence to combat the low blows from the opposition,” Dargent adds.
Most of Peru’s major political figures of the last 20 years are being probed or already face charges linked to unfolding bribery scandal around the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. For some it is a dangerous time to be politics.
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