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Peru took over the third president within a week. What happens now?

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Peru was sworn in as its third president in just over a week on Tuesday as the country’s volatile political system collapsed spectacularly.

Sagasti will now have five months on duty to stand firm on the ship ahead of the April 2021 presidential election amid a deadly pandemic and an audience dissatisfied with his quarreling political class. Here’s what you need to know.

The current crisis is the culmination of four years of squabbles between Peru’s many presidents and the opposition-controlled Congress, says Denisse Rodriguez-Olivari, a Peruvian political scientist at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany.

Congress had filed a large number of motions against presidents and ministers, designed to stop the government from adopting the policy, which Rodriguez-Olivari describes as “the efforts of its lawmakers to highlight the conflict.”

Keiko Fujimori, leader of the People’s Force party, lost the 2016 presidential election in a narrow run-off, but her party held more seats in Congress. “We will turn the proposals from our manifesto into laws,” she said, vowing to rule by Congress and establish a full-fledged relationship with the president.

The power struggle was particularly controversial in the field of education, with lawmakers repeatedly putting forward motions to remove education ministers from their posts and slow down reforms that would affect private universities.

On November 9, Congress voted to acquit Vizcarra following allegations of corruption related to construction projects approved when he was governor of the Moquegua region of southern Peru from 2011 to 2014. Vizcarra denied the allegations but accepted the acquittal decision.

Peru's interim president resigns after just five days

“History and the Peruvian people will judge,” he said in a speech after the impeachment vote.

As dictated by the constitution, Vizcarra was replaced by then-Congressman Manuel Merino, who lasted just five days in office before resigning under the pressure of mass protests in which two people were killed and dozens more injured.

Sagasti, a 76-year-old lawmaker representing the Purple Party (Partido Morado), was later appointed by Congress to replace Merino, becoming Peru’s fourth president in less than five years. He takes power at a time when the public has shown his willingness to take to the streets to express his frustration with the political class.

Sagasti represents the Purple Party.

Why Peruvians protested

Protesters took to the streets to force Merino to leave his post, but the marches quickly took on a wider significance.
While the downfall of Vizcarra may have been the spark for the protests, Rodriguez-Olivari does not think people took to the streets simply to support him. “I think people realized that what was happening was an attack on democracy,” she said, as Merino’s move from congressional speaker to president would have removed checks and balances between the two branches of government.
Dozens injured in Peru as protesters and police clash amid the political crisis

Sagasti’s appointment has gone somewhat to appease the public, as his party was the only one that voted as a bloc against Vizcarra’s accusation.

In his first speech, the new president apologized “on behalf of the state” for the deaths of two protesters, Jack Bryan Pintado Sanchez and Jordan Inti Sotelo Camargo, and vowed to support those injured.

He also called on all Peru to work together to create an “equal republic”.

Two protesters were killed in the protests.

Peruvian voters are unlikely to be satisfied

However, the problems go deeper than this week; Peruvians have long been disappointed with their national politics and widespread corruption among politicians.

One problem is that political parties are formed and disseminated on an alarming scale and often present poor quality candidates.

“We end up voting for the worst we can find,” said Rodriguez-Olivari, who stressed that voting is mandatory. “As a Peruvian I can not remember the last time I voted for conviction instead of seeing what it has and making a choice.”

In his speech Sagasti, an engineer, academic and former World Bank official, himself acknowledged that the majority of the political class has not been “in line with the great challenges we have faced.”

Many previous rulers have not been “able to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the vast majority of Peruvians,” he said.

Some citizens have called for a new constitution to update the rules governing the way presidents are removed, among others.

And Rodriguez-Olivari says the rules governing political parties and candidates need to change as well. But this is a long order when congress “has no incentive to make major reforms because they would shoot themselves in the foot.”

Jack Bryan Pintado Sanchez, 22, was one of two protesters killed.

What comes next under a Sagasti presidency

Sagasti is now taking over the reins of the country in an incredibly challenging period. Presidential and congressional elections are scheduled for April 2021, with Sagasti’s successor taking office in July.

While progress in passing legislation may be limited due to the upcoming elections, Sagasti has made a point of reaching the public, having already visited some people injured by police and spoken to protesters as a conciliatory gesture.

His prime ministership could bring a measure of stability, but it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle, Rodriguez-Olivari warns.

“Some people think the protests will stop just because Merino left, but I think he just blew the lid on a pressure cooker he’s been building for years,” she said. “People have realized that by putting pressure on them for a few days they can achieve something.”

Expect Peruvians to be vigilant and vocal to make sure there is no turning back in the progress of education reform and anti-corruption efforts, Rodriguez-Olivari said, as well as calling for justice for human rights abuses. against protesters and wider police reform. She describes Peruvian society as a kind of “2.0 citizenship” that is poised to demand change ahead of the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence next year.

“Unfortunately it started with two deaths, but I don’t think it will stop now,” she said. “People are united in the thought that things can be done differently and they are willing to do whatever it takes.”

Reporting contributed by CNN London Claudia Rebaza and Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota.

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