Peru’s congress has elected a new interim president after nearly 24 hours without a head of state as the country reels from an intense week of pro-democracy protests marked by accusations of police brutality.
Francisco Sagasti, an industrial engineer and member of the only political party that voted against the ousting of popular former president Martín Vizcarra a week ago, will be Peru’s caretaker president presiding over elections in April 2021.
The move is expected to ease tension on the streets after the impeachment of Vizcarra last Monday unleashed nationwide protests and what analysts have called Peru’s worst political crisis in more than a decade.
The former interim president, Manuel Merino, stepped down on Sunday after mounting calls for his resignation culminated in nationwide fury over the killing of two protesters on Saturday in a heavy-handed police clampdown on demonstrations.
The victims – identified as Jack Brian Pintado Sánchez, 22, and Jordan Inti Sotelo Camargo, 24 – were the first deaths in nearly a week of unrest over Vizcarra’s controversial removal and his replacement by a de facto government, regarded by many Peruvians as a coup.
Vigils and wakes for the two young men were held on Monday as the speaker of congress, Rocío Silva Santisteban, a leftist human rights activist and poet, called for minute’s silence before the chamber voted to select the new interim president and vice-presidents.
“Today is not a day of celebration because we have seen the death of two young people in the protests expressing their point of view,” said Sagasti, who was elected by 97-26 votes.
“We cannot bring them back to life but from the congress and the executive we can take actions so that this does not happen again,” he added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 35 journalists were injured covering anti-government protests in Peru. More than 100 protesters needed hospital treatment and four were still unaccounted for.
Peru continues to fight one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks of Covid-19, and one of its worst recessions.
Exactly 20 years ago, on 16 November 2000, Valentín Paniagua was elected as a caretaker president after the fall of Alberto Fujimori, who governed Peru from 1990 to 2000, and was jailed in 2009 for authorising death squads, overseeing rampant corruption and vote-rigging.