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Peru plunges into political crisis as president dissolves congress

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Peru’s congress voted to impeach president Pedro Castillo just moments after he declared the “temporary” dissolution of legislature, bringing to a boil a long-simmering political crisis in the Andean nation.

Shortly before lawmakers were set to begin debating whether to impeach Castillo, the president delivered a televised speech declaring congress dissolved. “We took the decision of establishing a government of exception,” he said. “From today and until the new congress is established, we will govern through decrees.” 

Augusto Ferrero Costa, the president of Peru’s constitutional court, responded swiftly, calling the decision a “coup” in a live broadcast. Lawmakers began voting on Castillo’s impeachment and ultimately approved the measure.

Castillo’s future looked increasingly uncertain after the armed forces and police distanced themselves from the president. In a joint statement, they said the president is only able to dissolve congress if two cabinets have lost votes of no confidence — and that any act to the contrary is a “violation of the constitution”.

Castillo and members of his family are under investigation for corruption and influence peddling. When opposition lawmakers — largely from rightwing parties — scheduled impeachment proceedings, they accused him of “permanent moral incapacity”.

“The United States categorically rejects any extra-constitutional act by President Castillo to prevent Congress from fulfilling its mandate,” Lisa Kenna, US ambassador to Peru, wrote on Twitter.

Castillo’s prime minister and nine of his cabinet ministers announced their resignations after the president moved to close congress and called for new congressional elections.

The former schoolteacher and political novice has survived two previous impeachment attempts, thanks to his ability to keep a third of the opposition-led congress on his side. Eighty-seven votes in the 130-seat chamber are required to secure the president’s removal.

“The democratic system in Peru has broken down,” said Denisse Rodriguez-Olivari, a policy leader fellow at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute, describing Castillo’s move as a “self-coup”.

Castillo has vehemently denied the allegations and characterised the impeachment proceedings as the latest attempt to subvert the will of voters. He narrowly won a five-year term last year, defeating rightwing candidate Keiko Fujimori in a run-off.

His third finance minister of the year, Kurt Burneo, who was among those who resigned on Wednesday, had acknowledged last month that political dysfunction is damaging the business climate in Peru, which once boasted one of Latin America’s most robust economies. In October, credit rating agency Fitch revised Peru’s outlook from “stable” to “negative”.

A report published last week after a high-level visit from the Organization of American States found that “political fragmentation” in Peru has put the country’s democratic institutions at risk, and recommended a “truce” while “a minimum consensus is reached to ensure governability”.

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