Peru Chooses 3rd President in a Week Amid Street Protests

By Julie Turkewitz and Anatoly Kurmanaev

Peru’s legislature on Monday selected the country’s third president in a week, seeking to stanch growing street protests over lawmakers’ decision to remove a popular president from office last week.

Addressing the nation, the country’s newest leader, Francisco Sagasti promised to help the country move away from bitterness and “toward a moment of happiness, of hope.”

But the decision to name Sagasti, an engineer, academic and first-time legislator, as the country’s new president was not expected to immediately quell popular anger at the country’s lawmakers.

Many in Peru see the legislators as venal, corrupt — and responsible for adding political turmoil to the economic and public health crises the country was already facing.

The problem Peruvians confront now is that the same deeply unpopular and inexperienced Congress is charged with moving the country beyond these emergencies.

“God willing, they have finally chosen a better leader,” said Eduardo Carita, 47, walking toward Congress on Monday to join a protest just before the announcement, “but truthfully I have little faith in them.”

Peru’s political tensions erupted into open conflict last week, when Congress relied on an archaic constitutional clause to remove Martín Vizcarra, a well-liked president, for “moral incapacity,” just five months before new elections.

Vizcarra had earned the support of a majority of Peruvians — and the enmity of much of the legislature — by leading efforts to clean up the country’s notoriously corrupt establishment. About half of Congress is under investigation.

His unexpected removal from office, and the swift swearing in of a new president, Manuel Merino, the head of Congress, left Peruvians suffering from a severe economic downturn, and from one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates, in the hands of a leader few knew or trusted.

The population poured its anger into the streets, and Merino resigned after less than six full days in office. At least two people died during protests over the weekend.

Sagasti, who is also unknown to most Peruvians, is among the few politicians who voted against Vizcarra’s ouster last week, which may win him favor in the eyes of many Peruvians.

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