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Peruvian legislators oust president after he dissolves Congress

Pedro Castillo (Enrique Shore/Alamy/PA)
Pedro Castillo (Enrique Shore/Alamy/PA)

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has dissolved the nation’s Congress and called for new legislative elections, but legislators rejected the decree and voted to replace him with the vice president.

Mr Castillo had tried to beat legislators to the punch as they prepared to debate a third attempt to remove him from office. The national ombudsman’s office called his move a coup.

Legislators then voted 101-6 with 10 abstentions to remove he from office for reasons of “permanent moral incapacity”.

Shortly before the vote, Mr Castillo announced he was installing a new emergency government and called for the next round of legislators to develop a new constitution for the Andean nation.

He said during a televised address that he would rule by decree until then, and ordered a nightly curfew starting on Wednesday night.

Mr Castillo also announced that he would make changes in the leadership of the judiciary, the police and the constitutional court. The head of Peru’s army then resigned, along with four ministers, including those overseeing foreign affairs and the economy.

The president took action as his opponents in Congress moved towards a third attempt to remove him from office.

He later left the presidential palace in a vehicle that carried him through central Lima and later entered a police station, where his status was not immediately clear.

The Ombudsman’s Office, an autonomous government institution, said in a statement before the congressional vote that after years of democracy, Peru is in the midst of a constitutional collapse “that can’t be called anything but a coup”.

The office called for Mr Castillo to resign and turn himself in to judicial authorities.

“Mr Castillo must remember that he was not only elected president of the republic, but also that the people elected representatives for public service,” the statement said. “Castillo’s actions ignore the will of the people and are invalid.”

The congressional vote called for vice president Dina Boluarte to assume the presidency. She rejected Mr Castillo’s move, saying it “worsens the political and institutional crisis that Peruvian society will have to overcome with strict adherence to the law”.

Ms Boluarte, a 60-year-old lawyer, would be the first woman to reach the presidency in Peru’s more than 200 years as an independent republic. Bilingual in Spanish and Quechua, she was on the same ticket when voters chose Mr Castillo in July 2021, and also served as minister of development and social inclusion.

Peru’s Joint Chiefs and National Police rejected the constitutionality of his dissolution of Congress.

Mr Castillo had said in an unusual midnight address on state television before the vote that he would never stain “the good name of my honest and exemplary parents, who like millions of Peruvians, work every day to build honestly a future for their families”.

The peasant-turned-president said he is paying for mistakes made due to inexperience, but a certain sector of Congress “has as its only agenda item removing me from office because they never accepted the results of an election that you, my dear Peruvians, determined with your votes”.

Dina Boluarte
Dina Boluarte (Alamy/PA)

Mr Castillo, whose government began in July 2021, denied allegations of corruption against him, saying they are based on “hearsay statements by people who, seeking to lighten their own punishments for supposed crimes by abusing my confidence, are trying to involve me without evidence”.

Federal prosecutors are investigating six cases against him, most for alleged corruption, under the theory that he has used his power to profit from public works.

The power struggle in Peru’s capital has continued as the Andes and its thousands of small farms struggle to survive the worst drought in half a century. Without rain, farmers cannot plant potatoes, and the dying grass can no longer sustain herds of sheep, alpacas, vicunas and llamas.

Making matters worse, avian flu has killed at least 18,000 sea birds and infected at least one poultry producer, endangering the chickens and turkeys raised for traditional holiday meals.

The government also confirmed that in the past week, the country had suffered a fifth wave of Covid-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 4.3 million Peruvians have been infected, and 217,000 have died.

Mr Castillo has three times the popularity of Congress, according to opinion polls. A survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies last month found 86% disapproval of Congress, and only 10% approval, while the president’s negative ratings were 61%, while 31% approved of his performance.

While a majority in Lima disapproves of Mr Castillo and wants him out, Peruvians in other cities and rural communities across the interior want him to complete his presidential term, and his promises. Many Peruvians want Congress closed instead.

But with few sure votes in Congress, he has not been able to keep his promises including fighting against corruption, raising taxes on mining, rewriting the constitution and going after supposed monopolies that have raised prices on natural gas and medicines.

The first president to come from a poor farming community in the nation’s 200-year history, Mr Castillo arrived in the presidential palace last year without any political experience.

He has changed his cabinet five times during his year and a half in office, running through 60 different cabinet officials, leaving various government agencies paralysed.