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Explainer: How Peru's Congress ousted the President and what happens now

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra, who drove a tough anti-corruption campaign in office, was removed by the opposition Congress on Monday in an impeachment trial over allegations of bribery, the second such trial he has faced in two months.

Peru's President Martin Vizcarra addresses lawmakers at Congress, as he faces a second impeachment trial over corruption allegations, in Lima, Peru November 9, 2020. Peruvian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS.

The abrupt removal of centrist Vizcarra, 57, means he joins a long list of Peruvian politicians ensnared in allegations of corruption and throws the world’s no. 2 copper producer into political turmoil ahead of planned elections next year.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Vizcarra, who has no party representation in Congress, has long battled lawmakers over his anti-corruption agenda. Vizcarra last year dissolved Congress amid a tense conflict, which led to the election of the current fragmented legislature.

The move to oust him gained steam in September amid accusations he covered up ties to little-known singer “Richard Swing” who was linked with dodgy government contracts. Congress impeached Vizcarra but voted against his removal.

However, shortly after, new complaints appeared, mainly in the local press about an investigation into allegations that he had received 2.3 million soles ($640,000) in bribes when he was governor of the southern Moquegua region of the country.

Congress voted once again to impeach Vizcarra earlier this month despite Vizcarra strongly denying the allegations. The vote passed on Monday with 105 votes out of the 130 lawmakers in Congress, well above the 87 needed.

WHO TAKES OVER?

According to the Andean country’s constitution, the head of Congress, Manuel Merino, an agronomist and businessman, would take the interim president role until the end of July next year. There are general elections already scheduled for April 11.

He is expected to be sworn in on Tuesday.

In mid-September, Vizcarra’s government had accused Merino of trying to involve the Armed Forces in the request for his removal, after he contacted military commanders. He denied any wrongdoing.

In recent months, Congress has been a source of laws considered populist, as the country battles a slumping economy caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

LIKELY IMPACT?

The political crisis comes in the midst of the fight against the pandemic - with Peru having one of the world’s worst per capital death rates - and with the mining country headed for its deepest economic contraction in a century.

Business leaders before the vote had called for prudence and said getting rid of Vizcarra would have a negative impact. Vizcarra himself warned of a significant economic hit.

Some politicians and analysts also warn the interim leadership could look to delay the election, something Vizcarra had said was part of the reason Congress wanted him gone.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; writing by Cassandra Garrison and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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