After Peru’s New President Resigns, Lawmakers Search for New Leader

Sunday resignation adds fuel to a political crisis that started with a surprise impeachment of previous president

President Manuel Merino was sworn in Tuesday, becoming Peru’s third president in fewer than four years.

Photo: luka gonzales/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

香蕉视频苹果下载LIMA, Peru—Peru was without a president Sunday night, after its latest leader resigned just six days after taking power and lawmakers were unable to agree on a new head of state to end a constitutional crisis that exposed deep popular anger over corruption in the country’s political class.

A country that before the coronavirus pandemic was considered a shining economic star, Peru is now flailing in uncharted waters. There is no president at the helm, and a fractured and deeply unpopular congress is trying to decide who should lead the country while people protest in the streets. With two presidents gone in less than a week—Martín Vizcarra was impeached Monday and then Manuel Merino, who engineered his predecessor’s ouster, resigned Sunday—Peru has been teetering with anarchy.

On Sunday night, the same lawmakers whose impeachment of Mr. Vizcarra touched off six days of protests were debating who among them would be chosen to replace Mr. Merino, who had no vice president. They had at one point been considering a left-wing lawmaker, Rocio Silva, who had broken with most lawmakers to vote against impeachment. Media reports said the lawmakers also were considering members of the centrist Purple Party, which overwhelmingly opposed removing Mr. Vizcarra.

香蕉视频苹果下载But by late in the evening, the badly divided body, which polls show most Peruvians consider corrupt, hadn’t appointed a new president to lead this country of 32 million.

Demonstrators protested in Lima on Saturday against the decision by Congress to remove former President Martín Vizcarra.

Photo: sebastian castaneda/Reuters

“It’s a country that is obviously very agitated and fed up and really suffering because of the pandemic and the economy,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. He said Peru needs someone with a steady hand who can unify a divided society until presidential elections in April. “But even under the best scenario, it’s going to be rocky,” he said.

Peru is the latest Latin American nation to be rattled by political turmoil over the past year. In Chile, protests led the country to begin a two-year process to rewrite its dictatorship-era constitution. In Bolivia, ex-President Evo Morales was forced to flee the country last November after allegations of fraud in his re-election bid. His party returned to power last month with the election of his former finance minister.

In Peru, fury over corruption in the congress—68 of some 130 members are under investigation for graft and other crimes—boiled over this week when Mr. Vizcarra was unseated as his government grappled with the twin challenges of a pandemic that has caused more than 35,000 deaths, the second-highest per capita rate in the world, and a blow to a once-highflying economy. From jungle towns to highland cities, Peruivans hit the streets to protest, culminating in demonstrations Saturday in which police cracked down, resulting in the deaths of two men and injuries to about 100.

Many of those who protested saw the fall of Mr. Merino in less than a week as an opening for bigger change, though exactly what kind of Peru would emerge from the chaos was unclear.

香蕉视频苹果下载“This is the best thing that could have happened for Peru,” said Raul Abregu, 55, whose father-in-law died from Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

香蕉视频苹果下载Another protester, Jhonny Canchari, 48, said, “We need to radically change the entire system.”

Many in Peru’s business establishment, however, just want things to go back to normal. From 2003 until last year, Peru grew at the fastest rate among Latin America’s biggest economies. It signed trade agreements with the U.S., China, the European Union and many other countries. The result was a sharp reduction in poverty, falling from almost 60% of the population to about 20% last year, according to the World Bank.

香蕉视频苹果下载The pandemic had buffeted the economy, leading to the International Monetary Fund to estimate it would contract by 14% this year. Mr. Vizcarra’s ousting along with the protests this week further alarmed business leaders accustomed to operating in an economy that grows steadily year after year, even in times of political tumult.

From Earlier

Protesters clashed with police in Peru as Manuel Merino was sworn in as the country’s new president. WSJ’s Ryan Dube reports on what the political turmoil means for Peru’s pandemic recovery as it also faces one of Latin America’s worst economic contractions. Photo: EPA/Shutterstock

Though unusual, several top executives went so far as to urge Mr. Merino to leave office, including the chief executives of food company Alicorp,香蕉视频苹果下载 mining company Minsur and Banco de Credito, Peru’s biggest bank.

香蕉视频苹果下载With Peruvians protesting every day since Mr. Vizcarra left office, Mr. Merino’s administration was under heavy pressure from its inception, with Peruvians seeing impeachment as a power grab by lawmakers looking to protect their personal interests and sideline anticorruption investigations into their activities. By Saturday, after the two deaths during the protests, one after another of Mr. Merino’s ministers had abandoned the government. In all, 13 resigned.

Just after noon Sunday, Mr. Merino, a former rice and bean farmer who was known as a fan of cockfighting, had resigned.

香蕉视频苹果下载“I present my irrevocable resignation,” Mr. Merino said in a televised address. “It is time for peace and unity.”

Political analysts say Mr. Merino’s resignation may not be enough to restore stability as protests continued across the country Sunday night over anger about the police’s crackdown on demonstrators. Several human-rights organizations on Sunday called on prosecutors to open up criminal charges against Mr. Merino and other top officials.

For now, Mr. Vizcarra is the only player in the recent political drama to be under investigation. His ousting was based on unproved allegations that he took $640,000 in bribes from construction companies while a state governor from 2011 to 2014. He denied the allegations, which prosecutors say are based on testimony from confidential witnesses.

Demonstrators ran away from tear gas during a protest against the new government of interim President Manuel Merino.

Photo: ernesto benavides/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

香蕉视频苹果下载Polls say most Peruvians want prosecutors to investigate Mr. Vizcarra. But four of five Peruvians also had told Ipsos in October that they wanted to see Mr. Vizcarra finish out his term in July.

Lawmakers used an obscure constitutional clause to oust Mr. Vizcarra by declaring him morally unfit to hold office. With no vice president, Mr. Merino was next in line to take over as the head of Congress. He was sworn in Tuesday, becoming Peru’s third president in fewer than four years.

Many Peruvians saw it as akin to a coup d’état, one that would benefit those who did the ousting.

“It’s a tremendous abuse,” said Cesar Quintana, a 62-year-old in Lima who joined protests. “They are just going to fill their pockets.”

Write to Ryan Dube at ryan.dube@dowjones.com and Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com

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香蕉视频苹果下载 Appeared in the November 16, 2020, print edition as 'Peru Teeters, Second Leader Quits.'