Peru Gets Its Third President in One Week--What Next?
By Esther Kassel
While it’s hard enough to get one president elected in the United States during 2020, Peru’s decades-long corruption and conflict within their government has led to the country recognizing its third president in just one week. In 2016, Keiko Fujimori, the leader of the far-right Popular Force party and daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, lost the presidential election in a runoff. Losing the presidential race, however, did not indicate a loss of power for Fujimori; the Popular Force party held the most seats in Congress, thus allowing her to rule through the powers of Congress. During the next four years, Congress made a great effort to prevent the president and the government from enacting anti-corruption policy; this is partly due to the corruption cases in the Fujimori family and many other legislators in Congress. Essentially, Congress serves as a base for immunity for corrupt legislators, since investigations cannot be conducted from alleged crimes committed before they were elected while they are serving in Congress. Along with the endless power struggle between Congress and the rest of the government, every living former president has either been criminally accused or charged, resulting in a growing distrust between the people and the government.
In 2018, Martin Vizcarra, Vice President and member of the Independent party, succeeded the former president after he had resigned due to corruption allegations and threat of impeachment. The conflict between Congress and the president continued during Vizcarra’s presidency, as he pushed for anti-corruption measures and attempted to curb parliamentary immunity, which Congress greatly opposed. On Nov. 9, 2020, Congress accused Vizcarra of accepting more than $630,000 in bribes during his position as the governor of the Moquegua region from 2011 to 2014 and, subsequently, voted to impeach him. Although Vizcarra has not been charged and continues to deny allegations, he conceded to the impeachment while his supporters and protestors of the impeachment seek an investigation. Vizcarra was then replaced by the President of Congress and member of the liberal Popular Action party, Manuel Merino.
Soon after Vizcarra’s impeachment and Merino’s inauguration into office, protests rose across the country, calling for impeachment and refusing to recognize Merino as the new president. The protests began in part to communicate disagreements for Vizcarra’s impeachment, as many citizens believed in his efforts to curb corruption in the government, and in part against Merino’s presidency because they believed Merino was undemocratically elected since he was appointed by Congress. Due to the pressure from the protests and the turmoil surrounding two protest-related deaths, Merino resigned his presidential position just five days after being elected.
Congress swiftly appointed Francisco Sagasti, member of the centrist Purple Party, as president, making him the third Peruvian president in just one week. Sagasti, a former engineer and World Bank official, supports a platform that more closely aligns with former President Vizacarra, and thus, received much greater acceptance from the public than the previous President Merino. Additionally, Vizcarra congratulated Sagasti’s victory and complemented his dedication to democracy. In his first day of presidency, Segasti asked the protestors for forgiveness for the neglect and violence that caused the deaths of two protestors and promised to aid those that were harmed during the protests. Ultimately, Segasti’s presidency appears to defuse tension between the public and the state, he still faces a daunting challenge to bring stability to Peru during a growing COVID-19 pandemic and an impending economic crisis.
While the height of the protests occurred during Merino’s five day presidency, protests maintained, albeit generally peacefully. Those that were pro-Sagasti chose to rally for him, congratulating him on his victory, while others continued to protest government corruption and police brutality, demanding justice for those injured and killed. Despite Peru’s imminent issues, Sagasti does not have significant time to pass legislation mending the crises before the next presidential election in April 2021 and official leave from office in July. Because of Segasti’s promises to the public and ongoing outreach to those affected by police brutality during the protests, many remain hopeful with Sagasti and his tasks to increase trust in the public, address corruption, and tackle the combined pandemic and economic crisis even with his limited time in office.
Peru’s experience with democracy should prove that there is an international demand for justice and a rejection of corruption. While Peru’s legislature provides an extensive history of crime and dishonesty, the newly-elected President Merino, alongside the thousands of citizens, demonstrates hope and unity unlike the country has never seen before. It’s important to understand events, such as this one in Peru, in order to expand your view of the realities in the world. Stories such as this one may inspire you to learn more about global politics or further analyze our own political clime; as always: “Think Globally, Act Locally.”