Peru was sworn in for its third president in just over a week on Tuesday after the country’s volatile political system collapsed spectacularly.
Sagasti will now have five months in office to fortify the ship ahead of the April 2021 presidential election amid a deadly pandemic and a society unhappy with its clashes with the political class. Here’s what you need to know.
The current crisis is the culmination of four years of controversy between a number of Peruvian presidents and the opposition-controlled Congress, said Denis Rodriguez-Olivari, a Peruvian political scientist at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.
Congress has made a huge number of proposals against presidents and ministers designed to stop the government from pursuing a policy that Rodriguez-Olivari describes as “the efforts of its legislators to escalate the conflict.”
Keiko Fujimori, leader of the People’s Force party, lost the 2016 presidential election in a narrow runoff, but her party had the most seats in Congress. “We will turn the proposals in our manifesto into laws,” she said, promising to rule from Congress and creating an unpleasant relationship with the president.
The power struggle has been particularly contentious in the field of education, with lawmakers repeatedly proposing to remove education ministers from office and delaying reforms that would affect private universities.
On November 9, Congress voted to impeach Viscara following corruption allegations related to construction projects approved when he was governor of the Moquegua region of southern Peru from 2011 to 2014. Viscara denied the allegations but accepted the impeachment decision.
“History and the Peruvian people will judge,” he said in a speech after the impeachment vote.
As the constitution dictates, Viscara was replaced by then-Congressman Manuel Merino, who lasted only five days before resigning under pressure from mass protests that killed two people and injured dozens more.
Sagasti, a 76-year-old lawmaker representing the Partido Morado, was then appointed by Congress to replace Merino, becoming Peru’s fourth president in less than five years. He took power at a time when the public had shown a desire to take to the streets to express its disappointment with the political class.
Why Peruvians protested
Sagasti’s appointment went in some ways to reassure the public, as his party was the only one to vote as a bloc against Viscara’s impeachment.
In his first speech, the new president called for “forgiveness in the name of the state” for the deaths of two protesters, Jack Brian Pintado Sanchez and Jordan’s Inti Sotelo Camargo, and promised to support those injured.
He also called on all Peru to work together to create a “republic of equals”.
Peruvian voters are unlikely to be satisfied
One of the problems is that political parties form and dissolve at an alarming rate and often nominate low-quality candidates.
“Ultimately, we are voting for the worst we can find,” said Rodriguez-Olivari, who stressed that voting is mandatory. “As a Peruvian, I can’t remember the last time I voted for a sentence, instead of seeing what’s there and making a choice.”
In his speech, Sagasti, an engineer, academic and former World Bank employee, acknowledged that much of the political class has not “responded to the great challenges we face.”
Many previous rulers “have failed to meet the legitimate aspirations of the vast majority of Peruvians,” he said.
Some citizens have called for a new constitution to update the rules governing the removal of presidents, among other things.
And Rodriguez-Olivari says the rules for political parties and candidates also need to change. But it is a strict order when Congress “has no incentive to make major reforms because it would shoot itself in the foot.”
What follows after Sagasti’s presidency
Now Sagasti is taking over the reins of the country in an extremely difficult period. Presidential and congressional elections are scheduled for April 2021, and Sagasti’s successor is set to take office in July.
Although progress in passing legislation may be limited due to the upcoming elections, Sagasti made public contact after visiting some people injured by police and talking to protesters as a conciliatory gesture.
Its prime minister may bring some stability, but it will be difficult to put gin back in the bottle, warns Rodriguez-Olivari.
“Some people think the protests will stop just because Merino is gone, but I think he just blew the lid of the pressure cooker that’s been building for years,” she said. “People realized that by putting some pressure on them for a few days, they could achieve something.”
Expect Peruvians to be vigilant and vocal to make sure there is no progress in education reform and anti-corruption efforts, Rodriguez-Olivari said, as well as a demand for justice in human rights abuses against protesters and the wider community. police reform. It defines Peruvian society as a kind of “citizens 2.0” that is ready to push for change before the country’s 200th anniversary of independence next year.
“Unfortunately, it all started with two deaths, but I don’t think it will stop now,” she said. “People are united in the idea that things can be done differently and are willing to do whatever it takes.”
Reports contributed by Claudia Rebaza of CNN in London and Stefano Pozzebon in Bogotá.