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LATIN AMERICA | 02-02-2023 14:21

Peru Congress again rejects snap election despite protests

Peru's Congress on Wednesday voted down another bid to advance elections from April 2024 to this year, a move sought by President Dina Boluarte to calm unrest that has left dozens dead in seven weeks of anti-government protests.

Peru's Congress on Wednesday voted down another bid to advance elections from April 2024 to this year, a move sought by President Dina Boluarte to calm unrest that has left dozens dead in seven weeks of anti-government protests.

After five hours of debate, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have advanced elections to December by 68 votes to 54, with two abstentions.

The president's office said on Twitter it regretted the vote and vowed it will soon present another bill to hold general elections this year.

Peru has been embroiled in a political crisis with near-daily demonstrations since December 7, when then-president Pedro Castillo was arrested after attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree.

In seven weeks of demonstrations, 48 people – including a police officer – have been killed in clashes between security forces and protesters, according to the human rights ombudsman's office.

Roadblocks erected by protesters have caused shortages of food, fuel and other basic commodities in several regions of the Andean nation.

Demonstrators demand the dissolution of Congress, a new constitution, and the resignation of Boluarte, who as vice president took over with Castillo gone.

In December, lawmakers moved elections, originally due in 2026, up to April 2024, but as protesters dug in their heels, Boluarte called for holding the vote this year instead.

Two previous bills to advance the election have also faltered in Congress.

Boluarte said that if it failed a third time, as it did Wednesday, she would propose a constitutional reform allowing a first voting round to be held in October and a runoff in December.

According to a survey by the Institute of Peruvian Studies, 73 percent of citizens want elections this year.

 

'Time bomb'

After Wednesday's vote, which followed a debate delayed several times since Monday, Congress Speaker Jose Williams announced the bill had failed to garner the 87 votes required for approval.

Ironically, lawmakers on the left of the political spectrum shared by Castillo and Boluarte, who are from the same party, applauded the rejection of the bill.

"There is a total separation between the political class and the citizenry," political analyst Alonso Cardenas of the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University told AFP of the outcome of the parliamentary vote.

Peru was sitting on a "time bomb," he added, as protests continued Wednesday in several parts of the country, including the capital Lima.

Hundreds of people marched in Lima late Wednesday, in what is now a daily meeting in the center of the capital. 

Protester Cintya Huancco, an agricultural engineer dressed in the traditional clothing of the Aymara Indigenous community, told AFP the country was being torn apart by the political crisis and demanded early elections.

"I call on all congress members... why are you doing this to us, why are you betraying us?" Huancco said.

Transport authorities reported 81 pickets blocking roads in six of Peru's 25 regions.

In Peru's south, the epicenter of the protests, there were roadblocks with burning tires and logs.

The unrest is being propelled mainly by poor southern, Indigenous Peruvians who perceived Castillo, who is also from that region and has Indigenous roots, as an ally in their fight against poverty, racism and inequality.

Peru's Las Bambas copper mine – responsible for about two percent of global supply of the metal – announced Wednesday it has had to halt production due to the persistent roadblocks.

Apart from those who have died in clashes, 10 civilians – including two babies – died when they were unable to get medical treatment or medicine due to roadblocks, according to the ombudsman's office.

The protest movement has also affected Peru's vital tourism industry, forcing the repeated closure of the world-renowned Machu Picchu Inca citadel ruins.

 

–– TIMES/AFP

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