CARACAS, Venezuela — President Martín Vizcarra of Peru was impeached by Congress on Monday, with the vote coming amid a devastating coronavirus pandemic and just months before presidential elections.
The opposition’s motion to remove the president for alleged corruption was supported by 105 of Peru’s 130 lawmakers, more than the 87 votes required for removal. Peru has a unicameral system, and Monday’s vote represented the final decision of Congress.
In a national address late Monday night, Mr. Vizcarra, 57, said he accepted the vote, reducing the likelihood of a constitutional crisis or drawn out legal battle over the presidency.
“I declare that without agreeing with the decision, today I will leave the presidential palace and go to my home,” he said, flanked by his cabinet. “History and the Peruvian people will judge the decisions that each one of us makes.”
Under Peru’s Constitution, the person in line to replace Mr. Vizcarra as interim president, until the end of his term next July, is the president of Congress, the opposition lawmaker and businessman Manuel Merino.
The impeachment vote, which shocked a nation that had expected the president to survive, was a culmination of an increasingly bitter standoff between Mr. Vizcarra, a centrist, and his opponents in Congress, who are opposed to his attempts to overhaul the country’s political and judicial system.
Monday’s vote was the lawmakers’ second attempt to impeach Mr. Vizcarra in two months, following a failed vote in September for an unrelated accusation of obstruction of justice.
Mr. Vizcarra’s government has portrayed the impeachment motion as a baseless abuse of a rarely used constitutional clause that was intended to allow lawmakers to oust a president who is mentally or morally unfit for office, not punish a president for a perceived wrongdoing.
“The worst thing we can do right now is sink the country again in greater agitation and instability,” Mr. Vizcarra said in his defense speech on Monday before the vote.
Ordinarily there would be a first vice president and a second vice president in the line of succession behind the president, but both positions are vacant.
Despite the growing accusations of wrongdoing, only 20 percent of Peruvians supported Mr. Vizcarra’s impeachment, according to an Ipsos poll in late October, and he also enjoyed the support of the country’s Armed Forces, a traditional arbiter of power in Peru.
Minutes after the vote, groups of Mr. Vizcarra’s supporters began gathering outside Congress to denounce what they called a “coup,” according to local broadcasters, and civil society leaders criticized the timing of the vote during a deep health crisis. Heavy police cordons encircled the legislative building in preparation for unrest.
“This is not rebirth,” the Archbishop of Lima, Carlos Castillo, said of the impeachment vote. “Here, there’s only rage, jealousy and aggressions.”
The new bid to oust Mr. Vizcarra got underway weeks after local media reported on leaked testimony by one of his close former associates and construction executives, which alleged he took bribes from local construction companies as the governor of a small mining region in the early 2010s.
Mr. Vizcarra is accused of accepting some 2.3 million soles, or about $641,000, and could face at least 15 years in prison if found guilty, according to an official in the prosecutor’s office who asked not to be named.
The president has denied the charges and has accused lawmakers of using his impeachment to postpone April’s elections.