Peru VP would not seek early elections if president were impeached: sources

LIMA (Reuters) - Peru’s Vice President Martin Vizcarra would not resign to pave the way to early elections if President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski were removed from office by an impeachment vote, two sources told Reuters this week.

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Opposition lawmakers are seeking to impeach center-right Kuczynski over accusations he lied about his ties to Odebrecht [ODBES.UL], a Brazilian construction conglomerate at the heart of a far-reaching graft probe.

After a first impeachment vote failed in December by just eight votes, a second was presented by opposition lawmakers last week. Kuczynski, a 79-year-old former Wall Street banker who denies wrongdoing, warned it would create chaos and said there was no legitimate reason to oust him.

If Kuczynski were removed from office, Peru’s constitution dictates that Vizcarra replace him as a president. Early elections would be held if both Vizcarra and Kuczynski’s second vice president resign.

In the past week, ruling party lawmakers have called for Vizcarra to pledge to resign out of loyalty.

But Vizcarra believes it would be his duty to govern Peru until the next scheduled elections in 2021 instead of deepening the political turmoil by resigning, said a source close to Vizcarra, who asked not to be named.

A government source also said that Vizcarra, a 54-year-old former governor of a mining region, was opposed to stepping down.

Vizcarra declined to comment. “I can’t put myself in scenarios that haven’t happened yet,” Vizcarra told Reuters at a mining conference in Toronto last week.

Investors in Peru, the world’s No. 2 copper producer and one of Latin America’s most stable economies, fear fresh elections might sweep anti-establishment candidates to power at a time when the corruption scandal and constant political feuding has left many Peruvians disgusted with elected officials.

On the eve of the impeachment vote in December, Kuczynski signaled that if he lost, both his vice presidents would resign to protest what he called a legislative coup.

But Vizcarra disagreed with that stance and refused to sign a resignation letter prepared for him before the vote, the sources said.

Relations between Vizcarra and Kuczynski cooled after that, and Vizcarra no longer weighs in on government decisions, the sources said.

Kuczynski named Vizcarra transportation minister upon taking office in July 2016, but Vizcarra resigned after lawmakers threatened to censure him over a controversial airport contract.

Since September, Vizcarra has been Peru’s ambassador to Canada as well as vice president.

Reporting By Mitra Taj, Additional Reporting By Susan Taylor in Toronto, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien