Peru’s congressional speakers assume the presidency amid tense protests

On Tuesday, Congressman Manuel Merino took office as Peru’s third president in four years, amid street protests and market shakes following the accusation of Martin Vizcarra on corruption charges.

Police clashed with protesters in the streets outside the Congress building in Lima when the little-known Merino sworn in.

Police and local media reported about 30 arrested and an unspecified number of injuries, where the authorities fired tear gas.

IDL Reportero’s news website reported that a number of people were injured by pellets fired by the police. Clashes also occurred in the cities of Arequipa and Cusco.

Vizcarra was fired in an indictment late Monday and on Tuesday questioned the “legality and legitimacy” of his removal.

“Legality is being questioned because the Constitutional Court has not yet ruled and legitimacy is being given by the people,” he told reporters outside his home in the capital.

He previously said he left with his head “high” despite accusations of bribing that date from when he was governor of his secret southern Moquegua region. He denied anything wrong.

Merino, 59, takes power for the remainder of Vizcarra’s initial term until July 2021 and immediately promised to respect the election plan.

Peru will hold general elections and presidential elections in April 2021.

Vizcarra survived a previous parliamentary vote in September accused of “moral incapacity.”

Call for device

After months of internal death between the presidency and his opponents in Congress, Merino used his first speech as president to demand national unity.

Constitutionally, the legacy fell to Merino because Peru has not replaced Vice President Mercedes Araoz, who resigned a year ago in the wake of a separate political crisis.

Party leaders seemed divided on Tuesday over the wisdom of removing Vizcarra in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and a crippling recession, with financial markets nervous about whether the new government will maintain existing economic policies.

Some parties that have joined forces with Vizcarra have proposed changes to the mining legislation “indicating a deterioration in the business environment” in Peru, IHS Markit in London said in a note.

The Bank of America’s research department said Merino “has favored populist decisions and raised future concerns about proposals that are not favorable to a market economy.”

A former Lima mayor and likely presidential candidate, George Forsythe, described Vizcarra’s dismissal as “a disguised coup.” Former left-wing presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza said: “What happened in Congress is shameful and outrageous”, while Lima’s Catholic Archbishop Carlos Castilo said that Congress lacked “a sense of proportion” when he fired the president.

There is nothing more that can be gained from this political class that is powerful. Only organized and mobile citizenship can restore democracy and provide for the life and dignity of the people. # VacarlosATodos

– Verónika Mendoza (@Vero_Mendoza_F) November 10, 2020

Vizcarra has had widespread popular support since succeeding Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the former Wall Street banker who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment due to 2018 corruption allegations.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Peru hard and GDP fell over 30 percent in the second quarter.

The South American country has the highest per capita mortality in the world due to the virus, which has seen almost 35,000 deaths and more than 920,000 cases.

Third president since 2016

Merino is Peru’s third president since 2016, reflecting the institutional fragility that has characterized the South American country since independence from Spain in 1821.

Merino is a lawmaker for the northern region of Tumbes on the border with Ecuador and is a member of the center-right Accion Popular Party, founded by two-time president Fernando Belaunde, who last held power in 1985.

Vizcarra rules out taking legal action to try to reverse the allegations.

“I am leaving the Government Palace when I entered two years ago, eight months ago: with my head held high,” he said, surrounded by his ministers on the patio of the Government House, adding that he would immediately go to his private home.

“I walk with a clear conscience and with my duty.”