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Peru lurches into uncertainty after president shuts congress

Thousands of people took to the streets in the capital waving Peruvian flags and celebrating Martin Vizcarra’s decision.

Demonstrators who had gathered to protest lawmakers pushing forward a vote to select an almost-full slate of new magistrates to the Constitutional Tribunal, continue outside Congress after President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the legislature in Lima, Peru, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Lawmakers were pushing forward the vote despite Vizcarra’s warning that the move threatens his fight against corruption and that he would dissolve the opposition-controlled legislature. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Demonstrators who had gathered to protest lawmakers pushing forward a vote to select an almost-full slate of new magistrates to the Constitutional Tribunal, continue outside Congress after President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the legislature in Lima, Peru, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Lawmakers were pushing forward the vote despite Vizcarra’s warning that the move threatens his fight against corruption and that he would dissolve the opposition-controlled legislature. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

By Franklin Briceno and Christine Armario, Associated Press

Peru has lurched into a new period of political uncertainty after President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the opposition-controlled congress and called new elections he says are needed to uproot endemic corruption.

Opposition legislators defied him, staying in their seats late into the night and even voting to suspend him from office and appoint a vice president who recently broke ranks.

But thousands of people took to the streets in the capital Lima, waving Peruvian flags and celebrating Mr Vizcarra’s decision in a country where nearly every living president has been implicated in the Odebrecht graft scandal.

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Martin Vizcarra (Martin Mejia/AP)

“We are making history that will be remembered by future generations,” Mr Vizcarra said in a national address on Monday evening. “And when they do, I hope they understand the magnitude of this fight that we are in today against an endemic evil that has caused much harm to our country.”

The stunning turn could spell new instability as Peru grapples with the fallout of the Odebrecht probe, plummeting faith in public institutions and an inexperienced president struggling to govern.

His decision was cheered by Peruvians who have been clamouring for new congressional elections to replace the majority party, led by a former first daughter and presidential candidate who is now behind bars.

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Police clash with supporters of Martin Vizcarra outside Congress (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Hundreds gathered outside congress honking horns, chanting and carrying signs with phrases like “Get out, corrupt politicians!”

Others tried to force their way into the legislature to get legislators out but were driven back by police with tear gas.

Opposition leaders denounced the move as the work of a “dictator”, refusing to leave congress and instead approving a resolution to suspend Mr Vizcarra for “breaking the constitutional order”.

Minutes later they swore in Mercedes Araoz, the vice president who recently broke with Mr Vizcarra over his push to hold early elections next year.

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Mercedes Araoz (Markus Schreiber/AP)

“I know many Peruvians are upset,” said Ms Araoz, who was greeted by applauding legislators singing the national anthem. “I share that anger but the solution for a crisis like this is not irresponsible gestures.”

No other institution appeared to back Ms Araoz. The nation’s military and governors issued statements supporting Mr Vizcarra.

Even if her appointment carries purely symbolic weight, the prospect of a protracted legal showdown appears to be growing.

Pedro Olaechea, president of the dissolved legislature, told Colombia’s BLU Radio that what will proceed is a “lengthy, tedious and delicate legal matter”.

Mr Vizcarra, then the vice president, rose to the presidency last year after Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned following revelations that his private consulting firm had received undisclosed payments from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant that has admitted to doling out millions to politicians around Latin America in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

With little political expertise on his resume, Mr Vizcarra rose in popularity as he championed anti-corruption initiatives, but he struggled to push legislation through congress, instead repeatedly utilising a vote of confidence through which he could threaten to dissolve the legislature if legislators did not approve his proposals.

The mechanism is aimed at resolving conflicts between the executive and legislative branch and allows the president to shut down congress if legislators reject two such votes. Congress rejected a previous vote of confidence during Mr Kuczynski’s administration.

PA

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