The head of the Peruvian Congress, Manuel Merino, took office on Tuesday as the new president of the Andean country amid protests in the streets and market volatility, the day after the popular leader Martín Vizcarra was removed from office.
I swear by God, by the country, and by all Peruvians that I will faithfully exercise the office of president, said Merino, a 59-year-old centre-right agricultural engineer who is almost unknown to Peruvians. He thus became the third president since 2016, reflecting the institutional fragility that has characterised the country since its independence in 1821.
While he was being sworn in, there were protests in the streets surrounding the Congress building in Lima, with clashes between demonstrators and police. The demonstrations were repeated in other cities, such as Arequipa and Cusco, according to local media.
”Our first commitment (...) is to respect the electoral process underway. No one can change the date of the elections called for April 11, 2021, Merino said later in his first speech to Congress, in which he also promised impartiality in all electoral processes.
He called for national unity and promised that he would leave office on 28 July 2021, the day Vizcarra's term ended.
He also criticised the former president's handling of the pandemic, saying that Peru is the country with the worst handling of covid-19. Peru has accumulated 920,000 cases of coronavirus infection and 35,000 deaths and is the nation with the highest mortality rate in the world in relation to its population.
Merino, a legislator for the northern region of Tumbes, which borders Ecuador, has spent his entire life fighting for Acción Popular (centre-right), the party founded by two-time president Fernando Belaunde (1963-1968 and 1980-1985).
The markets have expressed fears that Peru will abandon the policy of maintaining macroeconomic balance with the new government.
Vizcarra, who is also centre-right but has no party or legislative bench, left the government palace on Monday night for his private residence and ruled out any legal action against his dismissal for moral incapacity decided on Monday in Congress.