What Kuczynski’s Downfall Means for His Successor, and Peru

What Kuczynski’s Downfall Means for His Successor, and Peru
A man flanked by two large representations of vultures holds a sign that reads, in Spanish, “Let them all go” during a protest against Peru’s political class, Lima, March 22, 2018 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

LIMA, Peru—Most Peruvians were relieved to see Vice President Martin Vizcarra sworn in as the country’s new leader last Friday, after a series of revelations and accusations of corruption forced beleaguered President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign. But the installation of the relatively unknown Vizcarra as Peru’s 61st president marked the beginning of a period of uncertainty, as his ability to govern effectively in a political environment tainted by corruption and chicanery remains to be seen.

Vizcarra is a 55-year-old civil engineer whose only political experience prior to becoming Kuczynski’s first vice president was a four-year term as governor of the small, southern region of Moquegua. He served as Kuczynski’s first minister of transport and communication, and played a key role in the government’s response to El Nino-linked flooding in early 2017. However, he was forced to resign from that post after less than a year due to pressure from Peru’s opposition-dominated Congress. Kuczynski later named Vizcarra Peru’s ambassador to Canada, letting his second vice president, Mercedes Araoz, assume a more prominent role in the administration.

Vizcarra returned from Canada early Friday and was sworn in as president that afternoon. His recent absence and short political resume made him largely unknown to Peruvians—a national poll conducted by Ipsos in early March found that 81 percent of respondents didn’t know his first name. His accession to the country’s highest office just two years after becoming Kuczynski’s running mate is a mix of a Cinderella story and a Greek tragedy, since it is the result of Kuczynski’s precipitous downfall.

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