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In Peru, presidential sacking is just the latest sign of extreme political turmoil

The right-wing populist president who led Peru in the 1990s is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses. Three of his four direct successors were accused of bribery. his house to arrest him.

The ousting of leftist President Pedro Castillo last week was a dramatic turn of events by any political standard. The troubled head of state was impeached on Wednesday hours after trying to dissolve parliament. Lawmakers denounced the move as an attempted coup.

But Castillo’s dismissal after 16 months of a five-year term comes amid decades of extreme political turmoil that has ravaged the troubled South American nation of 32 million people. is just a symptom of

Democratic elections are held regularly in Peru, but commentators say the outcome has more to do with determining outcomes and making politicians richer than with installing an effective government. The dagger is immediately issued for the winner.

A woman is stalling while a colleague hangs a sash on her

House Speaker Jose Williams (left) and Senator Jose Cevasco wear the presidential belt on Dina Boluarte, who was named Peru’s new president on December 7, 2022 in Lima.

(Guadalupe Pardo/Associated Press)

Castillo’s successor, former vice president Dina Boruarte — Peru’s first female head of state — is the country’s sixth president in four years, and analysts wonder if she can make it through. I’m wondering. she semester.

Peruvian political scientist Alberto Vergara said, “It is well established that the political system is unstable.” Episode continues.”

Peru, according to observers, features A toxic political brew — a weak central state, a weakened and non-existent party structure, a nation torn apart by economic and geographical divisions.

Steven Levitzky, director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, said, “What has really happened in Peru in recent years is the complete collapse of political parties and politics as a profession.” There are no political parties, they are all private cars, Congress is very fragmented.”

For Castillo, the president and Congress have effectively been at war since taking office in July 2021. The lawmaker claimed corruption was rampant among his aides and his family. Castillo called such accusations a political witch hunt.

Mr Levitsky said the two sides “did not establish a minimum level of dialogue or trust”. “Both Congress and Castillo have come to view this as ‘kill or be killed.'”

Castillo was ousted last week in the third round of congressional impeachment proceedings. His efforts to dissolve parliament were clearly a desperate maneuver to stay in power. It backfired.

Turmoil and instability have long roiled Peru’s political panorama. In Peru, civil rule was restored in 1980 after decades of military dictatorship. Right-wing populist Alberto Fujimori was elected in 1990 and subsequently dissolved Congress in a move he said was necessary to combat hyperinflation and left-wing guerrillas. A strongman-style leader, he was eventually ousted in 2000 and subsequently imprisoned, but corruption and other accusations have ruined the terms of most of his successors.

Men clashing with police with shields

Supporters of exiled President Pedro Castillo clash with police during a protest in Lima, Peru, December 8, 2022.

(Fernando Vergara/Associated Press)

For decades, Peru has undergone a “painful political U-turn” between military rule, democracy and authoritarianism, and the potential for political parties to evolve and mature beyond crude transactionalism seems unlikely. Very few, said Michael McKinley, a former career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to the United States. Lima from 2007 to 2010.

Referring to the restoration of civil rule in 1980, McKinley said, “democracy returned to Peru against the backdrop of weak institutions…the parties never coalesced.”

Today McKinley said: [is] flex your muscles. ”

In addition to discord, experts point to deep social and geographic disparities in the country. Although Lima and the coastal areas have generally benefited from the government’s export-oriented economic policies in recent years, the Andean rural population includes a large indigenous population. — not seeing much progress.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit particularly hard in Peru, which has experienced one of the highest mortality rates in the world and has seen the collapse of an economy long sustained by commodity exports. A major mining nation, Peru is the second largest exporter of copper in the world after neighboring Chile.

A rural schoolteacher from the Andes with a distinctive wide-brimmed peasant hat, Castillo advocated for the underprivileged and ran under the slogan “In a rich country, the poor are no more.”

His message resonated in a country where an estimated 70% of the economy is informal. That is, the majority of people do not depend on or benefit from the political system and are generally marginalized from it. Castillo, who was largely unknown nationally before running for president and did not have a broad party base, is his outsider in a country where so many people feel left out. emphasized the position of

“Any stability has fundamental social challenges,” said Cynthia Sanborn, a professor of political science at the University of the Pacific in Lima.

Peru’s party structure is based on personality rather than policy, beliefs or even ideology, which can lead to “free participation” at the ballot box, she noted.

A man in a wide-brimmed hat stands with his arms outstretched against a railing covered with red and white flags.

On June 7, 2021, the day after the run-off elections, then-Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo greeted supporters celebrating the results of the partial elections at the election headquarters in Lima, showing him leading Keiko Fujimori. increase.

(Martin Mejia / Associated Press)

Castillo has emerged as one of two frontrunners in a dizzying line-up of 18 presidential candidates in the 2021 national elections. Castillo finished first in a crowded field, but he and his second-place finisher, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of an imprisoned former president, faced corruption charges and spent time in prison. Each received less than 20% of the vote for him.

Castillo emerged as the narrow winner in the runoff vote. Keiko Fujimori, who has repeatedly said Castillo will lead the country down the path of communism, compared her to former President Trump’s false claims, claiming she was tricked into avoiding victory.

Sanborn says the system has done little without “advanced politicians.” “Peru did not have a political party system with minimal stability or representation,” she said.

From the day Castillo was elected, many doubted he would be able to complete his five-year term. He had many enemies and few allies. Once in office, critics say his inexperience and general incompetence helped him doom his commission. Dozens of ministers came and went.

A fake flame burns at the bottom of a mock prison cell holding several cutout figures in black and white striped prison uniforms.

Demonstrators march next to a mock prison cell with cutout figures depicting Peruvian President Pedro Castillo and ministers in prison uniforms during a protest in Lima on June 4, 2022. .

(Martin Mejia / Associated Press)

One of the features of the Peruvian system is a constitutional clause that allows Congress to remove the president for “moral incompetence” if two-thirds of the 130 deputies agree. Critics say the legal definition of “moral incompetence” is very vague, leading to the rule being used as a political weapon. It is especially powerful in political contexts where presidents are usually newcomers lacking a party base of support. Castillo was expelled under the moral incapacity clause.

“It’s a very vague provision, but it gives Congress a lot of power,” said Joe Marie Bart, a professor of political science and Latin American studies at George Mason University in Virginia. “Congress has really contributed to the utter instability that Peru is exposed to.”

The “moral incompetence” clause was invoked by Congress in November 2020 to impeach President Martín Vizcarra. The ouster of President Vizcarra led to violent street protests that forced the swift resignation of his successor, Manuel Merino. Interim President Francisco Sagasti then took command. He became the country’s third president in just one week.

Castillo, who was impeached last week, was arrested on “mutiny” charges and transferred to the police station. There he was photographed flipping through magazines in front of a coffee table with a Chinese dragon on it.Castillo joins at least his three Other former Peruvian presidents facing possible criminal prosecution.

A representative for Castillo has denied any wrongdoing. Prior to his arrest, he contacted Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador about the possibility of obtaining political asylum in Mexico.

Boruarte, Castillo’s successor, 60 years old, lawyer and novice in politics. Doubts about whether she could finish the final three and a half years of Castillo’s term appeared to overshadow her sudden emergence as Peru’s first female president.

Calling himself a moderate leftist, the new president, who broke with Castillo when he tried to dissolve parliament, acknowledged that Peru’s deeply polarized political climate stunted public discourse and quickly declared: He called for the establishment of a government of “dialogue” and “national unity”. .

A woman in a suit is walking towards a shiny dark car surrounded by other people in suits

President Dina Boluarte walks to her car after speaking to the press as she leaves her home in Lima, Peru, December 8, 2022.

(Martin Mejia / Associated Press)

“I’m calling for a political truce,” Boruarte told the country. That’s it.”

Castillo’s supporters have vowed to continue protesting against his banishment, which they consider illegal. Others have taken to the streets to support his impeachment. However, many Peruvians seem to view the country’s ongoing political drama as a sideshow that has little to do with the needs of their citizens.

“The last few years have been the same, one president after another,” said Martha Ramirez, 50, an accountant and single mother in the capital. “They all steal and who will have real power in the end? The richest man. I have to work. I can’t think about all this. It’s bad for my health.” … I want to focus on helping my daughter and her education.”

Special correspondent Leon reported from Washington and Mexico City from Lima and Times staff writers Wilkinson and McDonnell, respectively..

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