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Monday 23 July 2018

Peru ‘bigger than its problems’ says new president amid vow to fight corruption

In his first remarks as leader, Martin Vizcarra has urged young citizens not to lose faith.

Peru’s president Martin Vizcarra makes his way to the presidential residence. (Karel Navarro/AP)
Peru’s president Martin Vizcarra makes his way to the presidential residence. (Karel Navarro/AP)

By Franklin Brinceno and Joshua Goodman in Lima

Peru’s new president Martin Vizcarra has promised to fight corruption head-on as he took power and vowed to heal bitter wounds left by a vote-buying scandal that forced his predecessor from office.

In his first address, Mr Vizcarra – the relatively unknown former governor of Peru’s second-smallest state – appealed for national unity and urged young Peruvians not to succumb to cynicism.

“Don’t lose faith in our institutions,” he said in remarks to congress shortly after being draped in the red and white presidential sash. “Let us show you that Peru is bigger than its problems.”

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Martin Vizcarra reviews the guard at the House of Pizarro. (Karel Navarro/PA)

Mr Vizcarra’s 15-minute speech was short on specifics. Other than vowing to form a completely new cabinet, he gave little insight into how he would attack Peru’s endemic corruption.

But he received warm applause from politicians weary of the months-long effort to oust Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, whose resignation was approved overwhelmingly just a few hours earlier.

Even the leader of that campaign, Keiko Fujimori, whose opposition party dominates congress, wished the soft-spoken engineer success and echoed his call for unity and optimism.

Mr Vizcarra received something of a hero*s welcome shortly after midnight on Friday when he arrived in Peru from Canada, where he had been ambassador, amid one of the most politically turbulent periods in Peru’s recent history.

Supporters greeted him at the airport with a birthday cake. A marching band was on hand and some people carried signs reading “Peru is with Vizcarra”.

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Martin Vizcarra arrives at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima (Karel Navarro/AP)

A last-minute hitch on Friday had threatened to delay the transition of power.

Mr Kuczynski said in a tweet that the proposed language of a congressional resolution approving his resignation is “unacceptable”.

He said if politicians press forward with the wording he would reverse his decision to quit, forcing congress to go forward with plans to try to impeach him.

In the end, the language was removed. But congress nonetheless rebuked the 79-year-old, scolding him for a “political crisis that that is the result of wrongful acts that the president himself has committed,” according to the final text of the resolution.

Efforts to oust the unpopular Mr Kuczynski led by the daughter of former strongman Alberto Fujimori have been building for months.

But the campaign went into overdrive this week after the emergence of secretly-shot videos that showed allies of Mr Kuczynski, including Mr Fujimori’s son, allegedly attempting to buy the support of an opposition politician to block the president’s impeachment.

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The presidential motorcade transporting Peru’s new President Martin Vizcarra (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

To stem off an even more disgraceful exit, Mr Kuczynski delivered a resignation letter to congress on Wednesday, blaming relentless attacks by his opponents for making it impossible to govern.

His downfall was his association with Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant that has admitted to spreading millions in bribes to officials across Latin America, including Peru.

Stepping into the void is Mr Vizcarra. His only previous experience in public office before becoming vice president in 2016 was as governor of Peru’s second-least populated province.

While he is expected to continue Mr Kuczynski’s pro-business agenda, he will face a tough challenge building consensus with a hostile congress and growing public anger at Peru’s political class.

Protesters scuffled with police on Thursday night while calling for new elections for both president and congress.

The new president’s first test on the international stage will come in three weeks when he is expected to host US president Donald Trump and other Western leaders at the Summit of the Americas in Lima.

Press Association

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