Peru VP quits but hangs onto Congress seat

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2012 11:58 PM
Peru VP quits but hangs onto Congress seat

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian Vice President Omar Chehade has resigned over corruption allegations but managed to hang onto his seat in Congress on Tuesday after surviving an expulsion vote.

He was able to retain his job in Congress after 13 members of the Permanent Commission in the legislature voted to keep him and 12 voted to remove him.

The departure of Chehade from one of Peru's two largely ceremonial vice presidential posts will not hurt the stability of the government and could help President Ollanta Humala further distance himself from the aide who caused one of the first scandals of his term. Humala took office in July after campaigning on promises to fight corruption.

The scandal initially hurt Humala's popularity, but a Cabinet shuffle he carried out in December and a crackdown on anti-mining protests has lifted his approval rating 7 percentage points to 54 percent, according to a poll published on Sunday. Chehade's resignation could remove a weight that had dragged on Humala's approval rating.

"I don't want to cause disruptions for President Humala, his image or the government," Chehade told members of the Permanent Commission of Congress.

Still, the vote to effectively keep Chehade in Congress could cause a backlash against the legislature, which polls show is widely distrusted by Peruvians, and lawmakers in the parties of the ruling coalition - Gana Peru and Peru Posible - that voted to save him.

Before the vote, opposition politicians warned that Chehade, who had resisted calls for months to step down as a vice president, was maneuvering to hold onto his seat in Congress.

"This is a ploy so that there will be less public outrage when the majority of Gana Peru and Peru Posible vote to protect him in Congress," said lawmaker Mauricio Mulder of the opposition APRA party.

Chehade said he was innocent of allegations that he asked a police general to help his brother evict workers from a cooperative sugar plantation to help a company that wants to take it over.

An overwhelming majority of the 130 lawmakers voted in December to suspend Chehade from Congress for 120 days and he had taken what he called "a leave" from his vice presidential post.

Humala, a former military officer, has shunned Chehade, going so far as to say, "We don't have any relationship with him."

Humala could not fire Chehade and his power to end the scandal has been limited by the constitution, which states that only Congress can remove a vice president from office in an impeachment proceeding.

(Reporting By Marco Aquino and Terry Wade; Editing by Eric Beech)