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Impeachment or ‘coup’? Peruvian Congress votes to oust president over ‘moral incapacity’

Impeachment or ‘coup’? Peruvian Congress votes to oust president over ‘moral incapacity’
The Peruvian Congress has voted to oust President Martin Vizcarra on grounds of ‘moral incapacity’ and replace him with an interim ruler, plunging the Latin American country into a constitutional crisis.

Legislators in Lima voted 105-19 on Monday to remove Vizcarra from office, citing Article 113 of the constitution to declare the office vacant. President of Congress Manuel Merino was selected to take over as interim president of the country until an election can be held in 2021.

The ouster comes amid Peru’s economic collapse due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a 30 percent GDP drop in the second quarter of 2020 and one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world, Bloomberg reported.

However, at least one scholar is warning that Monday’s events amount to a parliamentary coup akin to the ouster of presidents in Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil over the past decade.

Like the 25th Amendment in the US, Article 113 of the Peruvian constitution actually envisioned ousting a president due to physical or ‘mental’ incapacity, according to Alfonso Gurmendi, a professor at Universidad Pacifico. That definition was reinterpreted in 2000 to impeach President Alberto Fujimori, who had fled a corruption probe to Japan.

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The current Congress has cited the existence of an investigation into Vizcarra to claim he suffers from “moral incapacity” and declare the office vacant. In the absence of a clear definition of what qualifies as immoral, whatever the congressional majority says apparently goes. 

“So, no, this is not an impeachment,” argued Gurmendi. “It is, in essence, a parliamentary coup.”

Vizcarra became president in 2018, after his predecessor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned under pressure from the opposition, led by Fujimori’s daughter Keiko. This is not the first time Congress has tried to remove him – they sought to impeach him in September 2019, when he dissolved the legislature and called for a snap election, but failed. The current chamber was elected in January 2020.

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