The future of Peru, following the ousting of another president

. Nov 10, 2020
The future of Peru, following the ousting of another president Martín Vizcarra. Photo: MBZ/Shutterstock

It would appear that becoming the President of Peru is a poison chalice, as scandal has fallen upon every single person who has held the office in the last three decades.

Former dictator Alberto Fujimori is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses. Ollanta Humala and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski are currently under house arrest. Alejandro Toledo was arrested in the U.S. and released on bail. And Alan Garcia committed suicide when police arrived at his home to arrest him for corruption charges.

Martín Vizcarra now joins the club, after Congress ousted the president for “moral incapacity,”

following allegations that he took kickbacks from construction companies while serving as governor of the southern region of Moquegua.</p> <p>Congressional head Manuel Merino will now take the reins, leading the country until elections in April 2021. It will be anything but a straightforward task, as Peru grapples with a crippling economic downturn, one of the <a href="">worst coronavirus death rates</a> in the world, and a never-ending political crisis.</p> <p>Mr. Vizcarra rose to power in 2018, after his predecessor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned to avoid being removed from office. Without a strong political base to call his own, he promised to lead a technocratic government until the end of his term next year. But he faced fierce opposition in Congress from the get-go, notably from supporters of jailed dictator Alberto Fujimori.</p> <p>Ousting Mr. Vizcarra was certainly not an easy nor popular task. It took three attempts within the space of a year to finally suspend the president, with recent polls showing that seven out of every ten Peruvian voters wanted Mr. Vizcarra to finish his term. &#8220;This is a coup in disguise. We need calm, but also a lot of citizen vigilance,&#8221; said George Forsyth, a former footballer and mayor of La Victoria who will run in next year&#8217;s presidential race.</p> <p>&#8220;This absolutely unpopular vote throws the country into new levels of uncertainty —&nbsp;as it should spark protests and clashes between antagonistic groups,&#8221; says Alonso Gurmendi, a law professor at the Lima-based Universidad del Pacifico. &#8220;Moreover, it gives Congress practically unchecked powers, which is dangerous in emergency times such as these,&#8221; he adds.</p> <h2>The new president</h2> <p>While Congress removed a president for &#8220;moral incapacity,&#8221; it replaced him with a politician riddled with his own legal problems.&nbsp;</p> <p>Manuel Merino faces allegations of handing government contracts to members of his family and peddling his influence to protect other politicians. Moreover, the new de facto head of state is known for extravagant spending within his parliamentary office, having hired an excessive amount of aides and running up unusually expensive phone bills.</p> <p>But, with a solid base of support in Congress, Mr. Merino is safe from being considered &#8220;morally unfit&#8221; for office.&nbsp;</p> <p>However, this does not mean he will avoid pressure from the population. As soon as he took office, protesters in Lima took to the streets, shouting &#8220;<a href="">Merino is no president!</a>&#8220;</p> <h2>Third time&#8217;s the charm</h2> <p>Lawmakers first attempted to remove Martín Vizcarra from the presidency late in September 2019.&nbsp;</p> <p>The former president dissolved Congress and called for new parliamentary elections, after saying that lawmakers had constantly blocked his attempts to pass anti-corruption legislation. In retaliation, the opposition called the president’s move an “illegal” coup, declaring the presidency vacant and swearing in his vice president, Mercedes Aráoz.</p> <p>For a brief moment in time, Peru had <a href="">two presidents and no parliament</a>.</p> <p>The motion of vacancy was soon declared unconstitutional by high courts, keeping Mr. Vizcarra in office and upholding the <a href="">legislative elections he called for February 2020</a>.</p> <p>One year later, lawmakers once again tried to oust Mr. Vizcarra over alleged links to a case of irregular government contracts with a little-known singer. But the motion did not receive enough votes in Congress and was dismissed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Many analysts believed that the president would escape a third time, but 105 out of 130 congressional votes went against Mr. Vizcarra.</p> <p>After recent electoral wins of the left in Bolivia and Argentina — and prospects of victories in Chile, Ecuador, and Peru next year — some political forces raised talks about a <a href="">possible new &#8220;Pink Tide&#8221;</a> in Latin America. But the ousting of Martín Vizcarra shows that the Latin American hard right remains alive and well.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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