Since the election of Pedro Castillo as the President of Peru in 2021, a huge uncertainty has dominated the political scene of the country that has, for years, been grappling with internal divisions, tensions between its institutions, and external challenges, including an economic recession. On December 7th, Peru captured the world’s attention with an attempted coup led by now-former President Pedro Castillo, who was subsequently impeached by the congress and arrested for attempting to undermine democracy.
Peru is one of Latin America’s most politically troubled countries, facing crises of political representation, constant tensions between the executive and legislative branches, and high corruption. Since 2016, tensions between the executive and legislative branches have intensified political instability, resulting in a state of recession, the downfall of three presidents (2016 to 2019), closure of the congress in 2019 and large demonstrations from the que se vayan todos (away with everyone) movement, who voiced people’s displeasure with Peruvian politicians.
The presidential elections of 2021 further highlight deficiencies in Peru’s political system, marked by the appearance of outsiders and where "left wing" Pedro Castillo stood out as an unknown candidate that didn’t represent the dominant political elite. In a sign of the country’s deep political fractures, the first round of elections saw 20 candidates running for presidency; Castillo advanced to the second round with only 19% of the vote. Castillo was elected president on the back of his speeches advocating for decentralization of power, and as a vote against Fujimorist right wing populism, and as renunciation to the political classes established in the country.
However, Castillo’s government was doomed from the start. He had little or no political tact and knowledge, was unable to form a reputable or competent group of ministers, and, crucially, failed to establish strong political alliances with other parties which cost him the support of the congress.
Over the last 16 months, Castillo continued to face many political obstacles. His poor political abilities manifested in an inefficient government that was unable to solve the most urgent problems of the population. He also faced other difficulties with the fall of his ministers for corruption and/or ideological reasons, his party and allies abandoning him, charges for illicit enrichment, and persistent attempts by congress to remove him. Castillo tried to reverse these problems with a campaign to strengthen his relationship with Peru’s countryside; however, that strategy was criticized for its use of public funds, igniting another round of protests seeking new elections and the impeachment of the president for moral incapacity.
A Failed Attempt?
Faced with this scene and the possibility of a third impeachment attempt, Castillo decided to dissolve the Congress and establish a state of exception. In his speech he indicated an inability to govern, due to a corrupt congress that didn’t care about the people’s interest, moved him towards the decision to reestablish the Democratic State.
It’s important to note that the constitution of 1993 gives the executive the power to dissolve the parliament in case of a failed vote of confidence. Article 134 states that if the parliament rejects bills, norms, or presidential decrees three times, the executive may dissolve congress and call for new parliamentary elections. However, the president’s decision wasn’t in parameters of the constitution, and had support of neither the police, military, nor the population.
The coup attempt further aggravated the country’s political crises. This action was rejected by many political figures, resulting in a series of resignations from the ministers of Economy, Labor and Justice, ambassadors, and the departure of the president’s few remaining political allies. At the same time, it gave the congress the necessary conditions to vote for impeachment and have the president arrested for violating the democratic institutional order.
The consequences were immediate. At the national level, the people returned to the streets to protest the political system and lack of political representation, while other sectors of society organized roadblocks countrywide. At the international level, the coup attempt caused many condemnations and provoked a right-left debate about the legality of removing Castillo and the legal basis for his attempt to dissolve the congress.
The Path Ahead
Peru’s political crises were not solved by the former president’s removal. Tensions between the legislative and executive powers are not new, reflecting a fragile democratic system, a strain of antidemocratic customs and clientelist power relations. The legislative branch, despite presenting itself as a "savior" of democracy, has little legitimacy, with just 11% approval nationally, reflecting a significant crisis of representation. This crisis is a consequence of the parties’ inability to meet the citizens’ basic needs, entrenched corruption in the legislative body, and constant struggles for power among the parties.
Finally, the nomination of a new president, Dina Boluarte, the sixth president since the intensification of the crises in 2016, doesn’t guarantee the pacification of the political scene, nor that new political alliances with the congress will be established, rendering the county governable. The new president faces face substantial challenges, chief among them reshaping politics to regain the peoples trust, which only continues to diminish. The current scenario creates the possibility for the rise of new politicians playing the hero while displaying authoritarian tendencies, which would work against the country’s democracy.