Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra was surprisingly ousted from office on Monday afternoon, after Congress voted by an overwhelming majority to impeach him over corruption allegations.
The accusations are based on Vizcarra’s purported involvement with bribes paid by construction companies to win contracts in Moqueagua, a province in the south of the country, where he was the region’s governor from 2011 to 2014.
The unexpected impeachment of the popular President is the latest twist in a bitter battle that has raged between the executive power of the Peruvian President and the legislative power of Congress since Vizcarra was sworn into office in March 2018, following the resignation of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Vizcarra, the former Ambassador to Canada, has cast himself as a champion of probity and justice during his tenure. Railing against corruption, he had previously dissolved Congress last September as he came to loggerheads with legislators while pushing through judicial reforms to ban the re-election of law makers. Ahead of the impeachment vote on Monday Vizcarra pointed out that 60 members of Congress who were voting on his future, were themselves under investigation from prosecutors.
Peru has been one of the country’s most adversely affected by the Covid pandemic. Despite an early draconian lockdown with military enforced stay-at-home orders, the virus spread like wildfire through the countries poorer cities and provinces, resulting in Peru lamentably achieving one of the highest Covid mortality per capita ratios on the planet. Vizcarra’s government was quick to issue relief funds to the nation’s poorest in an attempt to ease the burden on Peru’s largely informal economy. However, like other emerging economies, such as India and Mexico, Peru’s economy has been drastically affected by the lockdowns. This year, Peru’s GDP output is estimated to have shrunk 27%.
Yet despite these hardships Vizcarra had remained a hugely popular President. One recent Ipsos poll found 78 per cent of Peruvians opposed impeachment, while in contrast, Congress is widely regarded by the local populace to be corrupt and self-serving.
With Vizcarra gone, Head of Congress, Manuel Merino, an agronomist and career politician from the northern city of Tumbes, assumes the presidency and will remain in office until the end of July 2021, when Vizcarra’s term was due to expire.
No doubt Vizcarra’s sudden removal from office will cause further investor concern in the world’s second largest copper producer, especially as Peru struggles to recover from such a severe economic contraction brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Merino’s Popular Action party has a pro-business centre-right ideology, and the early front runner for victory in April’s presidential elections is George Forsyth of the National Restoration party. Forsyth is a former footballer who built his political reputation as the mayor of La Victoria, a notorious neighborhood in downtown Lima, where he took on local mafias and established order and prosperity from an environment of chaos. Seemingly ideal preparation for the national job.