LIMA, Peru (AP) – Who is the president of Peru? No one answered that question on Monday.
The political turmoil of the Latin American nation took a chaotic turn on Sunday when interim leader Manuel Merino left and Congress could not decide to replace him. This left Peru without a helm and in crisis less than a week after lawmakers sparked a storm of protest, removing President Martin Viscara, an anti-corruption crusader very popular with Peruvians.
“There is no one at the head of the government in a deep public health and economic crisis,”
There are two potential outcomes of the test: Congress may propose a new candidate to be approved by a simple majority, or the country’s highest court may intervene. But as neither route guarantees a solution, some Peruvians are calling for new protests and a country on the verge of collapse.
“I think this is the most serious democratic and human rights crisis we’ve seen since Fujimori came to power,” said analyst Alonso Gurmendi Dunkelberg, referring to the tumultuous rule of the strong man Alberto Fujimori from 1990 to 2000
Peru has bet a lot: The country is in one of the deadliest outbreaks of coronavirus, and political analysts say the constitutional crisis has jeopardized democracy in the country.
Congress caused the disaster a week ago when lawmakers voted to overthrow Viscara. Using a 19th-century clause, lawmakers accused him of “permanent moral incapacity,” saying he took a $ 630,000 bribe in exchange for two construction contracts while he was governor of a small province years ago.
Prosecutors are investigating the allegations, but no charges have been filed against Viscara. He categorically denies having committed any offenses.
The move outraged many in Peru, who condemned it as an illegal seizure of power by a congress full of inexperienced politicians who take care of their own interests. Half of lawmakers are under investigation for potential crimes, including money laundering and murder. Viscara wanted to lift their parliamentary immunity, a move popular among Peruvians but not by the legislature.
Little-known Congress President Manuel Merino, a rice producer, was sworn in last Tuesday when hundreds of Peruvians protested nearby. He promised to keep the planned presidential election in April. But his cabinet appointments irritated many, and the police response was fueled by anger.
A network of human rights groups said 112 people were injured in Saturday’s protests by shells, batons and tear gas inhalation. Two were killed – Jack Pintado, 22, who was shot 11 times, including in the head, and Jordan Sotelo, 24, who was hit four times in the chest near his heart.
“Two young people were absurdly, stupidly, unfairly sacrificed by the police,” Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said in a video shared on Twitter. “This repression – which is against the whole of Peru – must stop.”
The protests that have rocked Peru are unlike any seen in recent years, fueled mainly by young people who are usually apathetic to the country’s notoriously volatile policies. They come a year after a wave of anti-government demonstrations around Latin America demanding better conditions for the poor and the working class.
“We want the voice of the people to be heard,” protester Fernando Ramirez said as he slammed a spoon into a pot of protest over the weekend.
Merino resigned on Sunday after most of his cabinet resigned.
The protests sent a loud message to political elites that Peruvians would serve to scrutinize Congress if they tried to seize power illegally, said Stephen Levitsky, a political scientist at Harvard University who is studying Peru in depth.
“This is a very good day for Peruvian democracy,” Levitsky said.
But hours after the jubilant Peruvians filled the streets, welcoming Merino’s departure, the crisis in the country was far from over.
Congress has relatively few opportunities for a new president to reassure protesters. The overwhelming majority – 105 of the 130 deputies – voted in favor of removing Viscara. It was widely expected that the newest president would be elected from among those who voted against the overthrow of Viscara.
“You are looking for someone who is pure – not corrupt, not tainted, not behaving in some absurdly selfish way. You don’t have many opportunities, “Levitsky said.
After Merino left, congressional leaders initially nominated Rocio Silva, a lawyer and poet from the left-wing Wide Front party who would become the country’s first female president. But only 42 of the 119 lawmakers who voted backed her nomination.
A new candidate from the centrist purple party will appear before lawmakers on Monday afternoon. Francisco Sagasti, an engineer who worked at the World Bank, will become Peru’s third president in a week. The Constitutional Tribunal may also assess whether Congress’s efforts to remove Viscara are legal or not; however, some experts said their decision would have no retroactive effect.
The timing of the crisis could not be worse. Peru has the highest per capita mortality rate from COVID-19 and has seen one of the worst economic contractions in Latin America. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a 14% drop in GDP this year.
In the historic district of Lima – the focal point of the protests – protesters laid flowers and wrote messages mourning the two young men killed. Many blame those who voted to remove Viscara.
“The 105 congressmen are the only ones to blame for their deaths,” protester Rosa Rodriguez shouted through her mask.
Armario reports from Bogota, Colombia.