In Peru, Fujimori heirs duel it out in Congress

Peruvian lawmaker Kenji Fujimori -- seen here in 2011 -- could face a ban on running for office if he is dismissed from Congress

Lima (AFP) – Peru’s Congress on Wednesday opened a debate on whether to dismiss popular lawmaker Kenji Fujimori on corruption charges — the latest twist in his battle against his sister Keiko for control of their father’s political dynasty.

Kenji, 38, is accused of attempting to buy votes to keep disgraced former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski from being impeached.

“I am an honest man and have a clear conscience. I have always worked and I have never received privileges,” an emotional Kenji told a special plenary session of Congress called to decide his future.

“If anyone believes that my political life ends here, they are totally wrong, because this is just a beginning.”

Many see Kenji, who polled more votes than any other candidate in Peru’s last two legislative elections, as likely to run against his sister for the presidency in 2021. 

But first he must survive the congressional vote, knowing a dismissal will likely bring a lengthy ban on running for office.

“Political disqualification is a power wielded by Congress. It can be five to 10 years. In Kenji’s case, it clearly aims to remove him from the 2021 presidential race,” analyst Fernando Tuesta told AFP. 

– Breaking ranks-

Corruption-tainted Kuczynski survived an impeachment vote in Congress last December thanks to the abstentions of Kenji and his supporters, who broke ranks with his sister’s Fuerza Popular (Popular Force) party.

In what was seen as a blatant quid pro quo, Alberto Fujimori was pardoned by Kuczynski just days later and released from prison, where he was serving a 25-year term for human rights abuses committed during his decade in power (1990-2000).

The 79-year-old Kuczynski finally stepped down in March on the eve of a second impeachment vote.

Two congressional allies of Kenji, Bienvenido Ramirez and Guillermo Bocangel, are accused on the same charges. If found guilty, their three seats will pass to Keiko supporters who are on the replacement list from the 2016 elections.

The debate, which began at 11:00 am (1600 GMT), was expected to continue into the night.

Analysts said the outcome was uncertain, as it would depend on whether lawmakers from several minority parties vote with Keiko’s Fuerza Popular or not.

“The dismissal of Kenji Fujimori would advance with 67 votes, a sum that Fuerza Popular doesn’t have. Keiko’s party has only 59,” Tuesta pointed out.

– Court verdict –

Since leaving prison in December, the ailing Fujimori has been unable to mend fences between his children. 

With timing worthy of a TV soap opera, Peruvian media reported Wednesday than the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which sits in Costa Rica, was to announce a verdict within hours on an appeal against his pardon.

Keiko, 43, had opposed seeking a pardon for her father, saying that he was innocent and should be released without government mediation.

Her critics say the real reason was that, once liberated, her father would threaten her control of the party that has come to define what Peruvians call Fujimorism.

“Keiko could score a double triumph, if the court sends her father back to prison while she sends her brother onto the street,” wrote analyst Rosa Maria Palacios in La Republica newspaper.

Keiko seems to hold all the cards in her face-off with her brother. She heads her own party heading into the presidential elections, and has the experience of two presidential campaigns behind her.

Kenji, should he survive, will have to build his own party from scratch if he is to make a bold bid for the presidency, analysts say.

According to Tuesta, “a triumph for Kenji, in case Congress does not remove him, puts him in a different position.”