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LATIN AMERICA | 07-12-2022 17:02

Peru president impeached despite bid to dissolve Congress

Lawmakers defiantly gathered to debate and approve an impeachment motion, with 101 votes out of a total of 130 lawmakers, in a session broadcast live on television.

Peru's Congress on Wednesday impeached President Pedro Castillo, sacking him as it ignored his decision to dissolve the legislature.

Facing his third impeachment attempt in almost 18 months of power, Castillo announced in a televised address to the nation that he was dissolving Congress and would rule by decree in what was criticised as a coup.

The former school teacher, who unexpectedly took power from Peru's traditional political elite, has faced non-stop crises, with repeated cabinet reshuffles, multiple corruption investigations and protests since he was elected in July last year.

"This intolerable situation cannot continue," the 53-year-old said, announcing he was "temporarily dissolving Congress... and installing an exceptional emergency government." 

Castillo said he would convene a new Congress "as soon as possible to draft a new Constitution within a period of no more than nine months."

He added that until a new Congress is formed, the country would be "governed by decree law" and there will be a curfew between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am, Castillo added.

However, lawmakers defiantly gathered to debate the impeachment motion and approved it, with 101 votes out of a total of 130 lawmakers, in a session broadcast live on television.

House speaker Jose Williams Zapata had called for Castillo's impeachment "due to moral incapacity" after the president tried to "dissolve Congress and impede its function in an unconstitutional manner."

The opposition-dominated Congress, which holds 80 seats, had needed 87 votes to pass the motion.

Castillo became the third president since 2018 to be sacked under the "moral incapacity" provision in the constitution. 

 

A 'self-coup' 

Vice President Dina Boluarte wrote on Twitter that Castillo's move was a "coup d'etat that aggravates the political and institutional crisis" in the country.

"Today, there has been 20th century-style coup. It is a coup destined to fail, Peru wants to live in a democracy. This coup d'etat has no legal basis," the president of the Constitutional Court, Francisco Morales, told the RPP radio station.

Peru's attorney general Patricia Benavides expressed her "emphatic rejection" of "any violation of the constitutional order," and urged the president to "respect the Constitution, the rule of law, and democracy, that has cost us so much." 

Castillo's announcement comes more than 30 years after then-president Alberto Fujimori suspended the constitution and dissolved Congress in April 1992.

"President Pedro Castillo has carried out a coup. He has violated Article 117 of the Peruvian Constitution and has become illegal. This is a self-coup," political analyst Augusto Alvarez told AFP. 

Ahead of the impeachment decision, the United States demanded Castillo reverse his decision.

"The United States strongly urges President Castillo to reverse his attempt to shut down Congress and to permit democratic institutions to function in accordance with the constitution," the US ambassador in Lima, Lisa Kenna, wrote on Twitter.

 

In the crosshairs 

Castillo, had been locked in a power struggle with Congress since the attorney general filed a complaint accusing Castillo of heading a criminal organisation involving his family and allies that hands out public contracts in exchange for money.

He recently appointed his fifth prime minister and cabinet since his election, while thousands took to the streets in November to demand his removal from office.

Castillo is under investigation in six corruption cases, including accusations against his family and political entourage, however, he could not be tried while in office, with his term only due to end in 2026.

Impeachment proceedings are relatively common in Peru because its constitution allows one to be brought against a president based on the more subjective premise of political rather than legal wrongdoing.

It has created much political instability: In November 2020, Peru had three presidents within one week.

 

- TIMES/AFP

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