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Peru’s Congress selects new leader amid political crisis

Francisco Sagasti is expected to become the country’s new president.

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Peru is in the midst of a political crisis (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Peru is in the midst of a political crisis (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Peru is in the midst of a political crisis (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Peru’s Congress has chosen a new leader who is expected to become the nation’s third president in the span of a week.

MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of Francisco Sagasti, an engineer from the centrist Purple Party, as the legislature’s new president. By law, the head of Congress should become the country’s new interim president.

It will now fall on Mr Sagasti to heal a nation bruised by a week of upheaval. The 76-year-old hails from a political party that voted against the ouster of president Martin Vizcarra, an anti-corruption crusader highly popular among Peruvians, which is likely to quell protests.

“What’s at stake is making a first step toward rebuilding confidence between the people and the state,” said Samuel Rotta, president of the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International.

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Protesters have been taking to the streets in Peru (AP/Rodrigo Abd)

Protesters have been taking to the streets in Peru (AP/Rodrigo Abd)

AP/PA Images

Protesters have been taking to the streets in Peru (AP/Rodrigo Abd)

Applause erupted in the legislative palace as Mr Sagasti clinched the required majority vote. It was unclear how soon he might be sworn into office.

The Latin American nation’s political turmoil took a chaotic turn on Sunday when interim leader Manuel Merino quit and Congress could not decide on his replacement. That left Peru rudderless and in crisis less than a week after MPs ignited a storm of protest by removing Mr Vizcarra.

Congress sparked the calamity a week ago when MPs overwhelmingly voted to oust Mr Vizcarra. Using a 19th century era clause, MPs accused him of “permanent moral incapacity”, saying he took bribes in exchange for two construction contracts while governor of a small province years ago.

Prosecutors are investigating the accusations, but Mr Vizcarra has not been charged. He vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

The move outraged many in Peru, who denounced it as an illegal power grab by a Congress full of inexperienced politicians looking out for their own interests. Half of the MPs are under investigation for potential crimes, including money laundering and homicide. Mr Vizcarra wanted to do away with their parliamentary immunity – a move popular with Peruvians but not with the legislature.

The little-known president of Congress, Manuel Merino, a rice farmer, was sworn into office last Tuesday as hundreds of Peruvians protested nearby. He promised to keep in place a scheduled presidential election in April. But his cabinet appointments irked many, and a heavy-handed response by police fuelled anger.

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Peru’s president of Congress, Manuel Merino (Luis Iparraguirre/AP)

Peru’s president of Congress, Manuel Merino (Luis Iparraguirre/AP)

AP/PA Images

Peru’s president of Congress, Manuel Merino (Luis Iparraguirre/AP)

Peru is in the throes of one of the world’s most lethal coronavirus outbreaks and political analysts say the constitutional crisis has cast the country’s democracy into jeopardy.

A network of human rights groups reported that 112 people were injured in Saturday’s protests. Two died — Jack Pintado, 22, who was shot 11 times, including in the head, and Jordan Sotelo, 24, who was hit four times in the chest near his heart.

“Two young people were absurdly, stupidly, unjustly sacrificed by the police,” Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said in a recorded video shared on Twitter. “This repression — which is against all of Peru — needs to stop.”

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