LIMA, Peru—Even before his quick, decisive response to the novel coronavirus, the irony of Martin Vizcarra’s accidental yet popular stint as president of Peru was not lost on many of his constituents. When voters here are asked to explain their reformist leader’s apparent honesty and effectiveness, they often respond cynically, “We didn’t vote for him.”
They have a point. All five of Peru’s elected presidents between 1985 and 2018, when Vizcarra stepped up from the vice presidency to replace the scandal-plagued Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, have been linked by prosecutors to corruption. One, Alberto Fujimori, is serving a 25-year jail sentence. Another, Alejandro Toledo, is wanted in his home country on bribery charges, and is fighting extradition from the United States. A third, Alan Garcia, committed suicide last year as he was being arrested.
Yet in a country where approval ratings for political institutions are notoriously low, Vizcarra has seen his popularity soar as a result of his response to the pandemic, using the military to enforce one of Latin Amerca’s strictest lockdowns. One recent poll had his approval rating at nearly 90 percent.