Since he was sworn in as president on 10 November, Manuel Merino has appointed a cabinet chief (PCM) and a new cabinet. At the same time, protests against Merino’s elevation following Martin Vizcarra’s ouster have grown in intensity. Amid multiple moving parts, below are the key issues and their implications as they stand today, 13 November.
Party backing already crumbling?
Although Merino has tried to consolidate his position with the PCM and cabinet appointments, his situation is far from secure. The new PCM, Antero Flores Araoz, is a controversial conservative with little popular appeal who has links to the leader of the strongly anti-Vizcarra Podemos Peru (PP) party, Jose Luna Galvez, who was arrested on 7 November as part of an anti-corruption investigation.
The Alliance for Progress (APP), which voted to remove Vizcarra despite party leader and presidential candidate Cesar Acuna categorically rejecting impeachment, refused to accept cabinet positions. The leftist Broad Front (FA) – which mostly voted for Vizcarra’s removal – has announced that it will not endorse the new cabinet, while elements within the Popular Action (AP) party – to which Merino belongs – have also distanced themselves from the Flores Araoz-led cabinet. If Congress refuses to endorse the cabinet, it is difficult to see where Merino could turn for more ministerial candidates.
Protests against Merino have increased in intensity during the course of the week and are far from being isolated to Lima. The police response has been heavy-handed, a sign of the absence of political authority as much as policing deficiencies. The situation remains volatile. Public indignation is likely to rise as the public perceives Merino – desperate to retain the support of congressional allies – to be making good on the promises that got him to the presidency. Controversial university reforms have already been tabled while the Union for Peru (UPP) has already said it is seeking a pardon for Antauro Humala and a referendum on a new constitution.
It will be difficult for Merino to dial down tensions as the Constitutional Court (TC) meets next week to decide on the legality of Congress’ move to “vacate” Vizcarra. The TC starts its meetings on 18 November, though it could take weeks to issue a ruling. In the meantime, Congress is seeking to oust the Public Prosecutor before 18 November. In parallel, Congress will look to fast-track the process to renew the TC; the special congressional commission leading the process includes members of the cabal of figures behind this week’s maneuvers, including Jose Vega of the UPP. The TC’s pending decision goes some way to explaining why international recognition for Merino has tended to be heavily conditioned.
Even if immediate protests die down, Merino’s fragile legitimacy and controversial allies are likely to make for a volatile few weeks. Not only is the country experiencing a serious unemployment crisis, but there is strong indigenous opposition to Flores Araoz that dates back to the 2009 Baguazo episode when 33 people were killed in clashes between police and indigenous protestors – Flores Araoz was defense minister at the time. If the situation fails to stabilize, Merino’s position is further weakened by the fact that to remove him from office, only 66 (a simple majority) of votes in Congress are needed to eject him (because he is still technically regarded as congressional president).