Peru’s vice-president gives up claim to presidency in blow to opposition

Surprise turn to constitutional crisis deals fresh blow to rebel band of former politicians

Police guard streets near the Peruvian Congress, in Lima, after the dissolution of Congress. Photograph: EPA

Police guard streets near the Peruvian Congress, in Lima, after the dissolution of Congress. Photograph: EPA

 

Peru’s vice-president renounced her claim to the presidency on Tuesday in a surprise twist to a constitutional crisis, dealing a fresh blow to a rebel band of former politicians resisting President Martin Vizcarra’s dissolution of Congress.

Mercedes Araoz had sworn the presidential oath a day earlier before dozens of dismissed politicians who designated her to replace Mr Vizcarra temporarily. The opposition had suspended Mr Vizcarra on the grounds he had violated the constitution in his push to strong-arm politicians into backing his anti-graft proposals.

But no state institution or foreign power has recognized Ms Araoz as interim president. Instead, the military and police reaffirmed their loyalty to Mr Vizcarra and politicians who support him formally accused her of trying to usurp his functions.

It was a stunning turn for Peru’s relatively young democracy, which just two decades ago saw the country’s authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori resign as a mounting graft scandal paralysed his right-wing government.

Ms Araoz said she had reconsidered her role at the centre of the dispute, pointing to a regional body that had appeared to back Mr Vizcarra in the dispute earlier in the day.

Ms Araoz announced her resignation from the vice-presidency as well as the interim presidency. “I hope my resignation leads to . . . general elections as soon as possible for the good of the country,” she said.

The announcement took many by surprise. Pedro Olaeachea, the recently-dismissed president of Congress, was in an interview with CNN Espanol when the broadcaster’s reporter read him Ms Araoz’s resignation letter to him, appearing to leave him speechless for a moment.

Fresh elections

With Ms Araoz out, an influential former lawmaker, Rosa Maria Bartra, said that in the opposition’s view Mr Olaeachea should assume the interim presidency and oversee a transition to new general elections.

But that plan might come to naught if the country’s electoral authorities merely ignore any summons to organise an election.

A majority of Peruvians in recent polls backed the dissolution of Congress, and thousands of his supporters took to the streets late on Monday to pressure holdout lawmakers to leave the building.

Mr Vizcarra has blamed the opposition party led by Mr Fujimori’s daughter – jailed former presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori – of deploying anti-democratic tactics in order to shield a corrupt network of politicians from fast-moving criminal investigations.

The Organisation of American States, which aims to promote democracy in the western hemisphere, said only Peru’s constitutional tribunal could determine the legality of Mr Vizcarra’s dissolution of Congress. – Reuters