Peru elects new president in attempt to restore stability

Peruvian lawmakers chose a centrist technocrat on Tuesday as the country’s third president in a week, hoping to restore political stability after days of turmoil that have unnerved investors and shaken faith in the country’s institutions.

Francisco Sagasti, a 76-year-old industrial engineer and former World Bank official, won 97 votes in the country’s single-chamber congress, with 26 against. He will replace Manuel Merino, who governed for five chaotic days until mass protests forced his resignation on Sunday.

Two demonstrators were killed and more than 100 injured in Lima over the weekend as police fired tear gas and buckshot at angry crowds protesting congress’s decision last week to remove the country’s popular president Martín Vizcarra and install Mr Merino as his replacement.

Mr Vizcarra, a centrist with no strong party backing, had angered lawmakers with his anti-corruption campaign. When congress decided to impeach him on corruption charges, polls showed most Peruvians believed the politicians had acted mainly to save themselves from investigation.

Peru was technically without a president for just over 24 hours after Mr Merino’s resignation, as congress failed to agree Sunday on a successor. That prompted Mr Vizcarra’s finance minister, María Antonieta Alva, to tweet that “irresponsible” politicians risked sending Peru over the edge.

It is unclear whether Mr Sagasti, a member of the centrist Purple Party, can command enough support to govern in the highly volatile atmosphere until presidential elections next April. The Purple Party had voted against Mr Vizcarra’s impeachment, allowing it to dodge popular anger.

Luis Nunes, a Lima-based political analyst, said Mr Sagasti was “an intelligent guy from a new party who could do a good job”. However, he expressed concern about the new president of congress, Mirtha Vásquez from the populist leftwing Broad Front party, which wants a new constitution and major changes to the economy.

Peru’s political turmoil has played out against the backdrop of one of the world’s worst coronavirus emergencies. Mr Vizcarra imposed a long, strict lockdown, which devastated the economy but failed to prevent the second-highest per capita death toll globally, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

Peru’s economy contracted 30 per cent in the second quarter, the worst result of any major emerging market economy. GDP in the world’s second-largest copper producer is forecast to shrink 13.9 per cent this year, according to the IMF.

Earlier in the day, Peru’s sol currency fell to its lowest level ever of 3.67 per US dollar. The country’s bonds also dropped in value, as investors took fright at instability in what had been one of the region’s more stable economies.

Peru’s constitutional court is still considering a verdict on Mr Vizcarra’s original impeachment under a 19th century law citing “moral incapacity”. Local media have reported that it is likely the court will rule the move unconstitutional but will not make its ruling retroactive, preventing Mr Vizcarra from returning to the presidency.

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