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Critics call the move a ‘coup d’etat’, Peruvian Congress votes to remove Castillo despite his announcement.
Facing a third impeachment attempt against his presidency, Peru’s Pedro Castillo has announced his intention to “temporarily” dissolve the opposition-led Congress.
The announcement came as Castillo faced a summons to appear before the legislature on Wednesday, to answer accusations of “moral incapacity” and other charges.
In a televised statement on Wednesday, Castillo announced a “government of exception”, allowing him to use emergency powers to call for new elections. Castillo called the move an attempt to “reestablish the rule of law and democracy” in Peru.
The president of Peru’s constitutional court has denounced Castillo’s decision as a “coup d’etat”, and members of the right-wing opposition have appealed to armed forces to “restore constitutional order”. On Twitter, Peruvian Vice President Dina Boluarte called it a “breakdown of the constitutional order”.
Rechazo la decisión de Pedro Castillo de perpetrar el quiebre del orden constitucional con el cierre del Congreso. Se trata de un golpe de Estado que agrava la crisis política e institucional que la sociedad peruana tendrá que superar con estricto apego a la ley.
— Dina Boluarte Z. (@DinaErcilia) December 7, 2022
Foreign minister Cesar Landa resigned in protest.
“I have decided to irrevocably resign from the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs, given the decision of President Castillo to close Congress,” Landa said, accusing the president of “violating the Constitution”.
Despite Castillo’s announcement, Peru’s Congress held the impeachment polls and voted to remove him.
The United States echoed criticism of Castillo’s move, with US Ambassador to Peru Lisa Kenna writing on Twitter, “The United States categorically rejects any extraconstitutional act by President Castillo to prevent Congress from fulfilling its mandate.”
“The United States strongly urges President Castillo to reverse his attempt to shut down Congress and allow Peru’s democratic institutions to function according to the Constitution. We encourage the Peruvian public to remain calm during this uncertain time,” she said.
The presidential power to dissolve Peru’s Congress is controversial and rarely exercised. In 2019, amid his own embattled tenure, then-President Martin Vizcarra dissolved Congress, leading to his own suspension. He was later impeached.
And in 1992, Alberto Fujimori — a polarising figure imprisoned for human rights violations — likewise used his presidential powers to dissolve the legislature and suspend the country’s constitution.
In his speech, Castillo mentioned that a new Congress would have the ability to draft a new Constitution, one of his principal campaign promises during the 2021 presidential elections.
Originally from the rural town of San Luis de Puña in northwestern Peru, Castillo emerged as a dark-horse candidate in the election cycle, representing the Marxist political party Peru Libre.
A former union organiser and elementary school teacher, Castillo campaigned on populist themes, with slogans including “Only The People Will Save The People” and “No More Poor People in a Rich Country”.
But from the start, Castillo’s presidency has faced accusations of corruption and wrongdoing. He narrowly edged out right-wing rival Keiko Fujimori in a runoff election by just over 40,000 votes, leading her to denounce the elections for fraud. Those claims remain unsubstantiated.
Nearly five months after being sworn into office, Castillo faced his first impeachment attempt in December 2021, followed by a second impeachment effort in March 2022.
Both impeachment efforts failed to achieve the two-thirds majority in Congress needed to be successful.
The latest attempt to impeach Castillo comes after Peruvian prosecutors lodged a constitutional complaint against the president in October, the most aggressive push yet against the president. The complaint came hours after five of Castillo’s allies were detained on corruption allegations.
“We have found very serious indications of a criminal organisation that has taken roots in the government,” Attorney General Patricia Benavides said.
With six allegations of corruption facing the president, protesters took to the streets last month, demanding Castillo’s removal. Tear gas had to be used to disperse the crowds in the country’s capital of Lima.
Castillo has denied the allegations and called the constitutional complaint a “coup d’etat”. But while Peru’s president enjoys immunity against criminal charges, the constitutional complaint opened the door for Congress to hold its own trial to weigh the allegations.
On December 1, the 130-member legislature chose to do so, with 73 members — mostly from right-leaning parties — voting to begin impeachment proceedings.
On top of “moral incapacity”, Castillo faces accusations of incompetency. In just over a year and a half in office, Castillo has appointed five cabinets and an estimated 80 ministers.
Wednesday’s events continue a trend of instability in Peru’s government, which has seen seven presidents and four ex-leaders detained or wanted for charges of corruption since 2011. Peru’s dollar dipped in value in the wake of Castillo’s announcement to dissolve Congress.
Castillo has publicly promised to remain in office and serve his full five-year term, slated to end in 2026.
Al Jazeera and news agencies