On Wednesday, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) resigned from the Peruvian presidency. He did so scarcely two years into his five-year term, on the dawn of a second impeachment vote triggered by his links to Odebrecht, which would have likely passed had he not offered to quit beforehand. PPK’s early resignation sheds light on the challenges of democratic governance in Peru amid the presence of widespread corruption in the country.
PPK, 79, is a seasoned politician. An economist by training, with degrees from Princeton and Oxford, he has held numerous government positions throughout his political career, working as the Minister of Energy and Mines (1980-1982), Minister of Economy and Finances (2004-2005) and Prime Minister (2005-2006).
PPK first ran for the presidency in 2011. He landed in third place with 18.5% of votes, falling behind Ollanta Humala (31.7%) and Keiko Fujimori (23.6%). In the second-round vote, PPK endorsed Keiko, the daughter of infamous strongman Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000)—a decision he would later publicly regret (particularly now, since she led the impeachment proceedings against him). Humala eventually won the presidency with 51.5% of votes.
In 2016, PPK began his second bid for the presidency. This time he did so on the platform of Peruanos por el Kambio (or Peruvians for Khange, the K alluding to his last name). The emergence of parties based on individual charisma is not a rare occurrence in Peru, where—especially since the collapse of the party system in the 1990s—parties have served as electoral vehicles for individuals to reach power. Nineteen candidates ran for the presidency in 2011, including two former presidents, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and Alan García (1985-1990 and 2006-2011). Of them, only 10 made it to the ballot. Many withdrew from the race due to poor performance in the polls, while others were forced to drop out following orders from the National Jury of Elections because of vote-buying (César Acuña) and irregularities surrounding the registration of their campaign (Julio Guzmán).
Keiko Fujimori led vote intention throughout much of the race. She eventually landed in first place with 39.9% of votes. PPK barely made it to the second-round vote, falling behind Keiko with 21.1% of votes. In the second-round vote, PPK led a patched-together coalition whose sole objective was to avoid the return of the Fujiorismo to the House of Pizarro, Peru’s White House. PPK eventually defeated Keiko in an extremely polarized election, with the two candidates separated by 0.2% of the vote.
However, PPK’s Peruvians for Khange performed poorly in the election of the country’s unicameral legislature, barely receiving 18 of the 130 seats (or 14 percent). Keiko’s Fuerza Popular (or Popular Force) received 73 seats (or 56 percent). Since Peru’s constitution allocates disproportionate power to congress, PPK’s minority position in the legislative branch, combined with the stringent reaction of the Fujimorista opposition, made his presidency a chronicle of a death foretold.
During his short-lived presidency, PPK struggled to govern. The Fujimorista opposition blocked most of his proposals and harassed and hamstrung his cabinet. Just months into his presidency, the opposition-led congress ousted Jaime Saavedra, his renowned Minister of Education, and later his entire cabinet following a vote of no confidence in September 2017. Both losses weakened the presidency. They also set the tone for what was about to come for the president himself.
PPK’s tumultuous presidency reached rock bottom after it was made public that he had received $782,207 from Odebrecht between 2004 and 2007. The company also paid $4.8 million to two companies linked to the president. PPK had failed to reveal the payments from the Brazilian construction giant, which is linked to corruption and influence peddling scandals across Latin America.
Peru has made significant advances in investigating Odebrecht dealings in the region, uncovering a widespread network of bribes, kickbacks and favoritism in Peru. No less than three former presidents are currently being investigated or have been charged over questionable dealings with Odebredcht. According to the case against him, Alejandro Toledo, president from 2001 to 2006, received $20 million from the firm. Earlier this year a local judge asked for his extradition from the United States, where he has been residing since the scandal broke out. Peru’s Supreme Court unanimously voted in favor of the extradition request last week. Ollanta Humala, president from 2011 to 2016, and his wife, Nadine Heredia, allegedly received $3 million from the company. They are currently serving 18 months of preventive prison. Alan Garcia, president of Peru from 1985 to 1990 and 2006 to 2011, is currently being investigated because of his meetings with members of the Odebrecht family during his second term.
PPK’s dealings with Odebrecht marked the beginning of the end of his presidency. After initially denying the accusations, the president was forced to publicly acknowledge the payments, which triggered an impeachment procedure on the grounds of moral incapacity.
The president narrowly survived the impeachment by tapping into the sibling rivalry of Keiko and Kenji Fujimori. PPK secretly negotiated with Keiko’s younger brother, and in return for Kenji’s support granted a presidential pardon to his father, former president Fujimori (1990-2001), who was serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption.
Kenji, alongside a handful of legislators loyal to him, abstained from voting, thus saving PPK from impeachment. The decision split Fuerza Popular. Kenji and his followers quit the party led by his sister, which led to Fuerza Popular losing its majority in congress. However, the biggest political backlash took place against PPK, whose decision to pardon Fujimori on humanitarian grounds alienated his already fragile support base.
The second impeachment procedure, based on similar grounds, was initiated shortly after the first one failed and was scheduled for a vote this week. This time, PPK could not count on Kenji and his allies. Hours before the vote, legislators from Fuerza Popular released a video showing how members of PPK’s government were supposedly buying votes from Kenji to avoid the president’s downfall. The scandal was reminiscent of the Vladivideos, in which Vladimiro Montesinos—head of Alberto Fujimori’s intelligence service—recorded himself bribing critics and allies of the regime.
Faced with an impending impeachment, PPK chose to resign from the presidency. Martín Vizcarra, 54, his first vice-president and Peruvian ambassador to Canada (yes, you can hold both positions in Peru), will become president. He is expected to rule until the end of PPK’s tenure in 2021. A civil engineer by training, Vizcarra rose to executive office with PPK, becoming his first vice-president in 2016. He was then nominated Minister of Transport and Communication, but was forced to quit 10-months into his tenure prior to his ousting at the hands of the opposition.
PPK’s resignation coincided with Vizcarra’s birthday, making it an awkward gift. The new president now faces the challenging task to rule a seemingly ungovernable country. Vizcarra will have to build bridges with the opposition and will likely incorporate opposition voices into his cabinet. However, he will likely face a stringent opposition more inclined in calling for early elections than helping Peru secure democratic governance.
Lucas Perelló is a PhD student in Politics at The New School for Social Research.