Peru has been tipped into political uncertainty after its Congress voted to oust President Martín Vizcarra from office, as the country battles one of the world’s worst outbreaks of Covid-19.
Amid public outrage at his removal, the centrist leader said he would not challenge the decision in the courts and would step down as head of state.
Peruvians took to the streets and banged pots and pans into the night to voice their anger and opposition to the vote to impeach Vizcarra over corruption allegations. The impeachment took the nation by surprise, as Vizcarra was expected to survive the vote.
Opposition lawmakers from nine parties in the unicameral congress banded together to impeach the 57-year-old. They cited accusations of corruption and his handling of the pandemic. In total 105 of Peru’s 130 lawmakers voted to remove him.
Flanked by his ministers late on Monday night, Vizcarra said he would leave the presidential palace.
“Today I’m leaving the government palace. Today I’m going home, he said. “History and the Peruvian people will judge the decisions that each one of us takes.”
Vizcarra, who has long campaigned against corruption at the highest levels, said was leaving office with a “clear conscience”.
His fight against corruption made him popular with Peruvians but won him enemies in congress and his impeachment is the climax of an acrimonious stand-off with opposition lawmakers who he had tried to bring into line with anti-graft reforms.
Many public figures called the move a coup.
“Those who will be most harmed by this coup will be the citizens,” wrote Augusto Alvarez Rodrich, a political commentator and columnist. “They face a gloomy outlook, in the middle of degradation of politics for ambitious, insatiable and illegitimate personal interests.”
Vizcarra denied as “baseless” and “false” the latest allegations that he accepted bribes worth 2.3m Soles (£483,000) from companies that won public works contracts when he was the governor of the southern region of Moquegua.
“The corruption charges against Vizcarra do seem to have some basis to them,” tweeted Jo-Marie Burt, a Peru expert from the Washington Office on Latin America advocacy group.
“But most observers I’ve spoken with don’t think they rise to the bar of grave crimes that merit impeachment. Vizcarra himself had promised to submit to an investigation at the end of his term,” she added.
According to Peru’s constitution, the president of congress, Manuel Merino, is next in line to replace Vizcarra as interim president. Merino, an opposition lawmaker, is due to be sworn in on Wednesday just months ahead of scheduled elections in April.
Opposition lawmakers attempted to oust Vizcarra in September but did not get enough votes in a separate impeachment trial over alleged links to a case of irregular government contracts with a little-known singer.