Peru's Congress selects centrist lawmaker to be new leader

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Peru's new interim President Francisco Sagasti waves to the crowd after he was designated by Congress to lead the nation, in Lima, Peru, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Congress chose Sagasti to become the nation's third president in the span of a week after Congress ousted Martin Vizcarra and the following protests forced his successor Manuel Merino to resign. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

LIMA – Peru’s political crisis appeared on the verge of resolution Monday as Congress cleared the way for an elder statesman and consensus candidate to become the country’s third president in a week.

People waved the nation's red-and-white flag and blared horns outside the gates of Congress as Francisco Sagasti of the centrist Purple Party was selected the legislature's new president.

The 76-year-old engineer has not yet been sworn into office, but as head of Congress becomes the nation's chief of state by default. Peru currently has no president or vice president, making him next in line.

It will now fall on Sagasti to heal a nation bruised by a week of upheaval.

“What’s at stake is taking a first step toward rebuilding confidence between the people and the state,” said Samuel Rotta, president of the Peruvian chapter of Transparency International.

Applause erupted in the legislative palace as Sagasti clinched the required majority vote. A respected academic, he has also spent decades consulting government institutions and held a post at the World Bank. Shortly after the vote, he took an oath to become Congress' president.

“We will do everything possible to return hope to the people and show them they can trust in us,” he said in his first remarks.

Many in the Latin American nation are hopeful Sagasti's appointment will mark the end of a tumultuous week in which thousands took to the streets outraged by Congress' decision to oust popular ex-President Martín Vizcarra. During the upheaval, two young men died and dozens were injured. Peru also spent more than 24 hours with no designated chief of state.