By AICHA EL HAMMAR CASTANO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra has stepped down as leader of the Andean country, after lawmakers voted to oust him.
Peru’s opposition-dominated Congress voted 105-19 to remove Vizcarra from office, citing an article in the constitution to declare the presidency “vacant.” The move required 87 votes out of 130.
The head of the Peruvian Congress, Manuel Merino, was sworn in Tuesday to take over as interim president until an election can be held next year.
“This vote is so controversial,” Michael Baney, a Peru specialist and the senior intelligence manager for the Americas at the international risk management company WorldAware, told ABC News in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He noted that 60 out of 130 members of the Peruvian Congress are under criminal investigation and that no party has a majority.
Baney said that Peru’s long history of impeachments makes the country’s political system one of the weakest in Latin America.
Vizcarra, who took power in March 2018 and enjoyed high popularity ratings over his pledge to root out corruption, is accused of mismanaging his country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and accepting over $600,000 in bribes when he was governor of Moquegua from 2011 to 2014. He has denied the allegations.
“Today, I am leaving the government palace. Today, I am going home,” Vizcarra said in a televised address late Monday night. He confirmed that he would not take any legal action against the impeachment vote.
Peru has the world’s highest per-capita COVID-19 mortality rate. The country has reported more than 922,000 diagnosed cases with nearly 35,000 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
“This is something I can never forgive,” lawmaker Maria Cabrera said while voting for Vizcarra’s ouster.
Baney told ABC News that “it was almost impossible for Vizcarra to control the pandemic,” because a vast majority of Peruvians are part of the country’s underground economy that’s largely beyond the government’s control.
Vizcarra’s ouster “was a surprise for a lot of people,” Cesar Mariposa, a 47-year-old restaurant owner in the historical center of Lima, told ABC News in a telephone interview Tuesday.
After surviving COVID-19 himself in June, Mariposa is among the dozens of people who have taken to the streets of Peru’s capital to protest against Vizcarra’s removal.
“Of course, Martin Vizcarra did not protect us properly,” Mariposa told ABC News. “But what will change with a president for only a few months that we did not even elect?”
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