Tuesday, 1 Dec 2020

Facing Widespread Protests, Peru’s Interim President Steps Down

Facing widespread opposition, Peru’s interim president stepped down on Sunday, his sixth day on the job, plunging a country already facing an economic tailspin and a devastating pandemic into a constitutional crisis.

Manuel Merino, the president, took power on Tuesday, after legislators shocked the nation by voting to remove the popular former president, Martín Vizcarra, and then swore in Mr. Merino, who was the head of Congress.

From his first moments in office, Mr. Merino had faced opposition from Peruvians who took to the streets in protest and from prominent political and social leaders, many of whom said they did not recognize Mr. Merino as president.

On Sunday, after most of cabinet resigned and his last political allies abandoned him, the Congress that had elected him called on him to step down. Mr. Merino took heed.

“I present my irrevocable resignation,” Mr. Merino said in a video address to the nation on Sunday. “I call for peace and unity of all Peruvians.”

Mr. Merino said he would now focus on ensuring a smooth transition to a new leader to avoid a power vacuum. Congress announced Sunday that they would appoint a new president from among the lawmakers later that day.

It was unclear, however, if Peruvians would accept Mr. Merino’s successor as their leader and end the daily protests rocking the nation. The nation’s Congress is deeply unpopular in Peru — about half of its members are under investigation for corruption and other crimes — and many have blamed its members’s political opportunism for the current crisis.

Protests broke out in the streets of Lima, the capital, and then in other cities around the country after a majority of lawmakers voted on Monday to remove the then president, Mr. Vizcarra. In removing him, the lawmakers cited unproven accusations of corruption and used an archaic constitutional clause that allows the Congress to declare the president morally incapable to lead the nation.

Mr. Vizcarra had been due to step down following a presidential election in April, and had promised to face justice after leaving office. He had earned the support of a majority of Peruvians during his two years in the presidency by working to clean up Peru’s notoriously venal political establishment.

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