Peru's new president sworn in after impeachment drama

"We will stand firm in the fight against corruption. Transparency will be a pillar of our administration"

Afp March 24, 2018
Martin Vizcarra was sworn in as Peru's new president on Friday March 23, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

LIMA: Martin Vizcarra was sworn in as Peru's new president Friday, catapulted to the post when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned to avoid impeachment.

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Vizcarra, who had been serving as both vice president and his country's ambassador to Canada, took the oath of office and donned the red-and-white presidential sash before the Peruvian Congress.

The ceremony came shortly after lawmakers voted to accept Kuczynski's resignation, rather than push ahead with impeaching him over corruption allegations.

"We will stand firm in the fight against corruption. Transparency will be a pillar of our administration," said Vizcarra, a former cabinet minister known for his meticulous management and unflashy style.

"Better times will come," he told his fellow Peruvians in his first address as president. Just a day before, the engineer and technocrat was far removed from the political hornet's nest that brought down Kuczynski, leading a relatively placid diplomat's life in Ottawa.

He flew home Thursday night, on his 55th birthday, and now takes over the remainder of Kuczynski's term, until 2021 -- though early elections are still possible.

Kuczynski, 79, had a short tenure as president the former Wall Street banker was elected by a razor-thin margin in June 2016, and took office the following month.

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But he lacked a majority in Congress, and was almost immediately embroiled in a messy conflict with the main opposition party, Popular Force, led by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced ex-president Alberto Fujimori.

When reports emerged linking Kuczynski to Brazil's scandal-plagued construction giant Odebrecht -- accused of paying massive bribes to politicians around Latin America for juicy public works contracts -- Popular Force mounted a relentless push to remove him from office.

Odebrecht revealed in December that it had paid nearly $5 million to consulting companies linked to Kuczynski when he was finance minister.

The former president survived a first impeachment vote that month. Three days later, he granted a pardon on medical grounds to former president Fujimori, who had been in jail for corruption and human rights violations.

That sparked speculation of a back-room deal with an opposition faction led by Keiko Fujimori's brother and rival Kenji.

Peru's vice president Martin Vizcarra arriving at Lima airport on Friday to be sworn in later in the day as the new president. PHOTO: AFP Peru's vice president Martin Vizcarra arriving at Lima airport on Friday to be sworn in later in the day as the new president. PHOTO: AFP

When video tapes emerged of Kenji -- who has now split from his sister's party -- apparently offering bribes to a fellow lawmaker to vote against the December impeachment, the political damage to Kuczynski proved to be too much.

Facing a new impeachment vote, he announced his resignation Wednesday, proclaiming his innocence but saying it was best for the country if he quit.

Vizcarra inherits a country still reeling from the drama and deeply mistrustful of its politicians, just as its strong economy is slowing.

Like Kuczynski, he will face an opposition-controlled Congress, though he may benefit from the fact that he has no connection to traditional political parties.

Keiko Fujimori appears willing to declare a truce -- at least for now.

"This is a moment to stand united as Peruvians, strong and optimistic in the face of the challenges that await us," she wrote on Twitter.

Vizcarra will almost immediately be thrust onto the international stage when Peru hosts the Summit of the Americas from April 13 to 14 -- an event the foreign ministry confirmed was still on.

Ironically, Kuczynski's demise echoed what happened to Alberto Fujimori himself in 2000, at the end of his decade-long run as Peru's president.

Fujimori had resigned the presidency by fax -- sent from exile in a hotel room in Japan. But Congress rejected the resignation, choosing instead to punish the ex-strongman.

Lawmakers ultimately impeached Fujimori on the grounds of "permanent moral incapacity," ending weeks of political drama.

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Kuczynski managed to avoid the same fate when Congress accepted his resignation. But his troubles may not be over yet. On Saturday a court is due to rule on a request from prosecutors to ban him from leaving the country.

Despite the turmoil, experts and markets appear cautiously optimistic that Peru will now regain political stability.

"Peru's adherence to its constitution during this transition reflects its strength as a resilient democracy," US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.


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