By Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) - A bid by the opposition-led Congress to remove Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra appeared to falter on Sunday, after key political leaders rejected the ouster over fears the upheaval would plunge the country into a political crisis.
César Acuña, head of the second-largest party in Congress and a possible candidate in 2021 presidential elections, said an ouster would "aggravate" the country's current situation, already fragile from the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Acuña's party had given key votes last Friday to start impeachment proceedings against Vizcarra over leaked audio tapes some lawmakers said showed the president trying to downplay ties to a singer being probed over government contracts.
Vizcarra, who accuses Congress of a plot, will face lawmakers on Friday when his removal would require 87 votes from the 130 legislators. The vote to launch the proceeding was approved by 65 votes last Friday, 21 of which came from Acuña's right-wing populist group Alianza para el Progreso.
Vizcarra, a centrist who assumed the presidency in 2018 after the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has no representation in Congress and cannot run in next year's elections due to constitutional limits.
The Andean country, the world's No. 2 copper producer, has long be wracked by political turmoil, with most of its recent former presidents having been investigated over corruption. Vizcarra himself has pursued an aggressive anti-graft agenda.
"It would be absolutely unnecessary and impertinent to force a presidential vacancy by Congress," Acuña, a businessman who owns several private universities, posted on Twitter. "It could only aggravate the ongoing political and health crisis."
Others including Keiko Fujimori, leader of the third force in Congress and Julio Guzmán of the centrist Purple Party have distanced themselves from the impeachment bid and suggested that Vizcarra should instead be investigated when his term ends.
"Until today, there are not enough elements or the necessary procedures to vacate the president," Fujimori - who herself was investigated for receiving contributions from Brazil's Odebrecht in the previous election - said on Twitter on Sunday.
The government announced on Saturday that it would use all legal avenues to defend Vizcarra and that it will present a competition claim on the case to the Constitutional Court on Monday to stop the impeachment process.
Institutions such as the Ombudsman's Office have said there are a serious question marks over whether Congress is improperly using the presidential impeachment process.
On Saturday Prime Minister Walter Martos also accused the head of Congress, Manuel Merino, of trying to involve the Armed Forces in the impeachment process. Merino would replace Vizcarra if the president was ousted.
George Forsyth, a mayor and one of the early front-runners for the 2021 election, said he "repudiated the unacceptable acts of the old political class".
"The coup plotters cannot return, the Armed Forces defend the constitutional order, not personal or partisan interest," Forsyth, a former soccer goalkeeper, said on Twitter.
On Saturday, the presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia said in a statement that the events in Peru threatened the stability and governance of the country.
Peru's fragmented Congress was elected in January to complete the legislative period until July 2021, after Vizcarra dissolved the previous parliament last year amid a fight with the opposition over his anti-corruption reforms.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Lisa Shumaker)