In Brief

How Peru ended up with three different presidents in a week

Impeachment of popular reformer triggered public protests over his successor

Even by the standards of a region of the world famed for political instability, Peru is facing extreme levels of chaos that have seen the South American nation ruled by three different presidents in the space of just over a week. 

The constitutional crisis kicked off on 9 November - as Peru’s leaders continued to wage a losing battle against Covid-19 - when the country’s congress voted to impeach President Martin Vizcarra on the grounds of “moral unfitness”.

“Over unproven allegations of corruption and in a move spearheaded by the speaker of Congress, Manuel Merino, lawmakers ousted Vizcarra from office,” The Washington Post reports.

Merino had already led a previous effort to remove Vizcarra, but this time “the public reacted”, the newspaper adds.

“The protests in Lima and other major cities throughout Peru were the largest the country has seen in years, drawing tens of thousands to the streets”, says Slate. Two people were killed and dozens more injured in clashes with police. 

But the protesters succeeded in their aim, with Meino resigning “under massive pressure” just six days after he was sworn in as president. The country’s current president, Francisco Sagasti, took office on 17 November.

Sagasti subsequently “announced an overhaul of the police force, appointing a new police chief and sacking more than a dozen top brass officers” over the violence meted out during the protests, The Guardian reports.

As Slate notes, “even for the fast-moving world of South American politics, it’s all a lot to process”.

But some commentators believe the crisis has paved the way for a more democratic society.

The protests set “a powerful warning sign against the abuse of congressional impeachment powers, which lies at the heart of the current crisis”, Kenneth Roberts, a professor of Latin American politics at Cornell University, told The Guardian.

“Like legislatures in Brazil and Paraguay, Peru’s congress ‘weaponised’ the impeachment tool for transparently self-interested political goals – and Peruvian society has risen up to hold the ringleaders accountable.”

However, Cynthia McClintock, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, told Slate that the timing of the crisis could spell trouble for many Peruvians.

“This is going to mean a lot of pain and suffering, for millions of people. To overcome the economic crisis and Covid, well, it’s not going to happen if you’re changing presidents every other day,” she said.

“Not until there’s a modicum of stability, and ministers who are trying to do the right thing.”

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