By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino
LIMA, March 21 (Reuters) – Peru’s president faced growing calls to resign on Wednesday after secret video recordings ensnared him in a fresh corruption scandal on the eve of an impeachment vote, deepening a political crisis in one of Latin America’s most stable economies.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was due to deliver a message to the nation later on Wednesday. As of Tuesday night he was not planning to resign and hoped to survive Thursday’s impeachment vote, according to a government source who asked not to be named.
But it was unclear where he would garner enough support in the opposition-controlled Congress to survive in office. Lawmakers were scheduled to vote on whether to force Kuczynski from office for being “morally unfit” to govern after the president presents his defense in a plenary session.
If Kuczynski leaves office, First Vice President Martin Vizcarra would be expected to replace him.
Several lawmakers who had previously criticized the impeachment motion now said publicly they would support it. Ruling party lawmaker Salvador Heresi, who had been one of Kuczynski’s fiercest defenders, said on Twitter on Wednesday that he would vote to oust him if the president did not resign.
A 79-year-old former Wall Street banker, Kuczynski was elected in 2016 on promises to modernize Peru while cleaning up government corruption. But he has grown increasingly isolated during his 20 months in office, especially after the rightwing opposition revealed in December that his consulting firm had received payments from a construction company at the center of Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal.
Kuczynski has denied any wrongdoing.
He survived an impeachment motion in December with the help of former autocrat Alberto Fujimori, whom he pardoned three days later as he forged an alliance with a legislative faction led by Fujimori’s son Kenji.
Kuczynski appeared to have a decent chance of surviving a second impeachment effort until Tuesday, when the opposition released secretly-recorded videos of his allies offering lucrative public work contracts in exchange for a vote from a reluctant opposition lawmaker.
In snippets of the recordings presented in a news conference, a government official is heard giving instructions to the lawmaker on how to make easy money on infrastructure projects he would secure for his region, while Kenji Fujimori assures him the government will help shield him from potential prosecution.
The government fired the official late on Tuesday and denied it had awarded any public work contracts in exchange for political support. Fujimori also denied wrongdoing, saying the recordings reflected the kind of political negotiations needed to ensure infrastructure projects move forward.
Kuczynski is due to welcome Donald Trump on the U.S. president’s first trip to Latin America next month. Many of the region’s leaders plan to use the Summit of the Americas that Peru is hosting on April 13-14 to demand democratic reforms in Venezuela.
The U.S. embassy in Lima declined to comment on whether Trump would still visit Peru if Kuczynski is impeached.
“Peru is a strong democracy, and we are confident the Peruvian people and institutions will address this situation according to Peru’s constitutional norms,” a spokesperson for the embassy said. (Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino Editing by Frances Kerry)
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