LIMA, Peru — Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Friday began an anticipated week-long effort to save his fledgling presidency for the second time in less than 100 days.
Kuczynski, 79, testified in the presidential palace before a special legislative committee investigating corruption by Brazilian construction companies. Committee members questioned him about Brazilian-built public works projects, changes in investment laws to facilitate projects, and 15 companies that he had established during his years as a well-connected financial dealmaker.
After months of delays, the president announced two weeks ago that he would talk to the six committee members behind closed doors. He did not know then that the date chosen would fall a day after lawmakers approved an impeachment hearing for March 22 that could end his presidency at the 20-month mark.
The Friday hearing, while having always been an important one, is now critical to Kuczynski’s survival, setting the tone for the coming week as he works to win the support of some of the lawmakers who voted for the impeachment hearing, as well as that of a handful of no-shows.
Congressman Victor Andrés García Belaúnde, a committee member, said Friday morning that the president needed to keep his story straight if he wanted to hold onto his job.
García Belaúnde’s five-member Popular Action party voted for the impeachment hearing but said it would make a final decision on the president’s fate after listening to him Friday. Kuczynski will be given a chance to defend himself before the full Congress on impeachment day.
Congress acted Thursday on the grounds that Kuczynski is morally unfit to govern. Backers of the impeachment hearing say he has repeatedly perjured himself by lying about his relationship with Odebrecht, the Brazilian company at the center of a corruption scandal here, at home and in nearly a dozen other Latin American countries. He is also accused of benefiting from contracts Odebrecht had with his companies while he was a Cabinet member.
While details of Odebrecht’s relationship with the president continue to emerge, including allegations of illegal campaign contributions, this is not the first time Kuczynski has faced the charges. Congress attempted to impeach him Dec. 21, but the motion fell eight votes short.
The president and his supporters claim double jeopardy, arguing that lawmakers are using the same allegations and evidence.
“No reasons exist for this to be happening again. This process does not respect the will of the people, and it is not contributing to our [economic] recovery,” said Trade and Tourism Minister Eduardo Ferreyros.
The administration argues that political instability may not only scare off investors but also make Peru look foolish at it prepares to host the upcoming Summit of the Americas. President Trump has confirmed he will attend the summit, set for April 13-14.
The theme is governance against corruption, which Kuczynski’s opponents say Peru could embody, but only if he steps down.
“The president needs to go. He lied and wants Peruvians to believe that because Congress failed to impeach him, we should just accept things as they are. That’s not going to happen,” said Manuel Coronado, an organizer of the social summit that will parallel the official event.
Luis Nunes, who heads his own political consulting firm, said that Kuczynski could hang on but the political turbulence would not be over.
“The president might not be impeached now, but we will see a repeat in a few months,” he said. “This administration is mortally wounded.”
In the most recent survey by Ipsos Peru, the country’s top polling company, 58 percent of Peruvians supported impeachment.
If the president is impeached Thursday, Vice President Martín Vizcarra would be in line to take over. Vizcarra is also serving as ambassador to Canada and has remained quiet. If he and the second vice president, Mercedes Aráoz, were to decline the presidency, the job would fall to the Congress speaker, who would have to call new elections.