By Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra struck a defiant tone on Friday facing an impeachment debate in Congress, saying he would not be cowed despite a bid to oust him that has roiled the copper-producing country over the last week.
Vizcarra was mounting a defense to lawmakers after they voted to impeach the centrist leader on grounds of "moral incapacity" over alleged links to a case of irregular government contracts with a little-known singer.
Lawmakers are set to vote later on Friday on whether to oust Vizcarra, though most expect him to survive the ballot after key opposition lawmakers distanced themselves from the plan despite anger over an economic slump and a severe coronavirus outbreak.
"I do not hide, I have not done so before and I am not going to do it now. I am here, with my head high and my conscience clear," Vizcarra said in a 20-minute speech in Congress, adding that the country should not be "distracted" from real challenges.
"It is very serious to have the country plunged into this uncertainty."
The opposition-dominated Congress must gather at least 87 votes out of 130 lawmakers to remove 57-year-old Vizcarra, who does not have his own party representation in the legislature. A vote to start impeachment proceedings gained 65 votes.
If Vizcarra were ousted, the presidency would be assumed by the head of Congress, Manuel Merino.
Vizcarra has claimed that the move is a plot by Congress, which was elected in January after the president dissolved the previous parliament last year in the middle of a fight with the opposition over his anti-corruption reforms.
A recent Ipsos poll showed that 79% of Peruvians would prefer that Vizcarra fulfill his mandate until mid-next year following elections set to take place in April. Vizcarra is not running in those elections.
Peru, the world's second largest copper producer, has a history of political turmoil, with three attempts to impeach a sitting president in the last five years.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Steve Orlofsky)