Peru President Faces Second Impeachment Trial in Two Months

Peru’s Congress voted to start impeachment proceedings against President Martin Vizcarra for the second time in two months, heightening political uncertainty for a country mired in a deep recession and a devastating pandemic.

The Andean nation’s single-chamber congress voted 60-40 in favor of admitting the impeachment motion Monday, more than the 52 votes needed. Eighteen lawmakers abstained.

Vizcarra’s impeachment will be debated and voted Nov. 9, once the president or his lawyer has presented his defense in the 130-seat chamber. If the motion receives 87 votes, he’ll be removed from office and replaced by the head of congress until elections are held.

Though Vizcarra has no representatives in congress to defend him, the opposition looks unlikely to oust him. He remains apopular leader and recent polls suggest most Peruvians oppose impeachment and want him to face investigation after his term ends in July. The country is due to hold a general election on April 11.

The presidentsurvived his first impeachment trial Sept. 19 after just 32 legislators voted for his ouster for allegedly attempting to interfere in a graft probe against members of his government.

Lawmakers from several parties said although they are in favor of starting proceedings to oblige Vizcarra to make his defense in congress, it doesn’t mean they will vote for his removal. Diethell Columbus, a lawmaker with the Popular Force party, said Vizcarra should be given the opportunity to respond to the accusations. “The least we can do is admit the impeachment motion for debate, and then we’ll look at the underlying issue.”

Otto Guibovich, a lawmaker with the Popular Action party, said congress has to show it’s fighting corruption and exercising political control.

“Admitting the motion doesn’t necessarily mean impeachment, but we fulfill our constitutional mandate,” he said.

Prosecutors are probing allegations that Vizcarra took 2.3 million soles ($639,000) in bribes from companies building infrastructure projects in the Moquegua region, where he was governor from 2011 to 2014. Prosecutors opened a probe into Vizcarra last month based on testimony and documents provided by construction company executives seeking a plea deal as part of a wider bribery probe. He denies any wrongdoing.

The motion accuses Vizcarra of lying repeatedly to the country and seeks his ouster on the grounds of “permanent moral incapacity.”

The proceedings will be a distraction for the government as it seeks to shore up economic growth following a world-beating contraction. Peru also has the highest per-capita death toll from Covid-19.

Vizcarra, 57, has maintained high approval ratings for much of his presidency after he embarked on a campaign to clean up politics and the judiciary. He dissolved congress in September 2019 after repeated clashes with the opposition over anti-graft measures.

He’s 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.

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