Fujimori family feud deepens as former leader's son backs Peru's embattled president

Kenji Fujimori said he and nine other lawmakers had formally split from the opposition party led by his sister Keiko Fujimori, erasing the absolute majority in Congress it once used to oust ministers from Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's government.

Move comes amid protests over recent pardoning of former president Alberto Fujimori

Lawmaker Kenji Fujimori gives a news conference after being expelled from his party, led by his sister Keiko, at the Congress in Lima, Peru, on Wednesday. (Mariana Bazo/Reuters)

The son of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori said on Wednesday that he would form a new political group to support the executive branch as President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and his government grow increasingly isolated.

Kenji Fujimori, Fujimori's youngest son whose popularity is surging, said he and nine other lawmakers had formally split from the opposition party led by his sister Keiko Fujimori, erasing the absolute majority in Congress it once used to oust ministers from Kuczynski's government.

Faction voted against impeachment

The division came after the faction broke party ranks last month to keep Kuczynski from being removed from office in the wake of a graft scandal.

Kuczynski granted Alberto Fujimori a pardon three days later on medical grounds, helping Kenji fulfil a long-standing goal to free his father.

In his first news conference since the elder Fujimori was pardoned, Kenji, 37, unveiled a political pledge on Wednesday signed by the 10 dissident lawmakers, giving the first sign of concrete political support beyond Kuczynski's party after anti-pardon street protests and resignations weakened his government.

Kenji Fujimori unveiled a political pledge to support Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after widespread protests about the pardoning of Kenji's father, Alberto Fujimori, less than halfway into a 25-year sentence. (Mariana Bazo/Reuters)

"This is a governable agreement," Kenji said, holding up a document as he listed priorities that included helping Kuczynski address the needs of Peruvians and courting private investment.

Alberto Fujimori, who had been serving a 25-year prison sentence for graft and human rights crimes during his authoritarian decade in power, is a deeply divisive figure in Peru. Despite his downfall, his is admired by many who credit him with quashing a leftist insurgency and saving Peru from economic ruin.

In the past year, Fujimori has publicly sided with Kenji, not Keiko. In July, he issued a rare rebuke to the opposition party led by his daughter.

A former lawmaker, Keiko has spent a decade turning her father's legacy into Peru's most organized political party, Popular Force, but her leadership of the populist movement he started in the 1990s has been called into question. She declined to seek Fujimori's freedom, citing a 2016 campaign pledge to only use the courts and not political powers to seek his release.

Keiko, Sachi and Hiro Fujimori, daughters and son of former President Alberto Fujimori, arrive to visit their father at Centenario hospital in Lima, Peru, in December 2017, after Kuczynski pardoned him. (Guadalupe Pardo/Reuters)

She now runs behind him in polls on who is the current leader of the so-called Fujimoristas.

"We just witnessed the birth of the parliamentary group of Alberto Fujimori," ruling party lawmaker Juan Sheput told local news channel Canal N after Kenji's news conference.

Group dubbed 'the Avengers'

Kenji told journalists, sometimes nervously, that Popular Force had ignored his calls for internal reform after Keiko lost two consecutive presidential elections, including a 2016 tight run-off vote with Kuczynski.

"The healthy thing would be to change the party leadership … but that never happened," he said, flanked by his fellow dissident lawmakers, whom he has dubbed "the Avengers."

Kenji is expected to make a bid for the presidency in 2021 elections, when Kuczynski cannot run due to term limits.

Keiko's and Kuczynski's spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The secretary general of Popular Force, Jose Chlimper, said on Wednesday that the party places institutions above individuals.

"We're sad this is happening but we have to follow our internal statutes," Chlimper said. Kenji, he said, had violated prohibitions on damaging the party's public image and breaking party lines on key votes.

Kuczynski, shown in a file photo from mid-January, narrowly avoided impeachment in December 2017 for failing to disclose decade-old payments from a Brazilian company embroiled in Latin America's biggest corruption scandal. (Guadalupe Pardo/Reuters)

Amid renewed calls for his impeachment, Kuczynski is counting on more of the remaining 61 Popular Force lawmakers joining Kenji, a source close to Kuczynski told Reuters last week.

Lawmakers led by Kuczynski and Kenji collectively control 25 seats in Peru's 130-member Congress, not enough to thwart a new impeachment bid without help.

Congresswoman Maritza Garcia, a lawmaker loyal to Kenji, told journalists that other Popular Force lawmakers unhappy with Keiko had told her they would eventually join the faction.