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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Cycles of crises: The Hindu Editorial on the executive-legislature clash in Peru

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When Pedro Castillo was elected the President of Peru last year, he promised voters a new social contract. With four Presidents in the past five years, there were widespread corruption allegations and growing anger in the country against the ruling elites with unemployment and poverty rising. Mr. Castillo, a former schoolteacher lacking administrative experience, vowed to fix the chronic economic problems and fight corruption. But in less than two years, the socialist met with the same fate as his immediate predecessors — impeachment by Congress. Rather than his ouster — a President being impeached is not new in Peru — what shook the nation were the developments leading to his impeachment. Just after he took over, clashes erupted between him and Congress. He also faced allegations of corruption and running a criminal organisation that profited off government contracts. While he rejected these allegations, by saying old political elites wanted to take back power, his inability to mobilise public and institutional support only emboldened his rivals. Lawmakers tried to impeach him twice invoking a clause in the Constitution that allows the sacking of Presidents “for permanent moral incapacity”, but failed to garner enough votes. The crisis came to a tipping point last month when Mr. Castillo threatened to dissolve Congress.

In 1992, President Alberto Fujimori (currently in jail), shut down Peru’s Congress, suspended its Constitution and went on to rule as a dictator until 2000. Mr. Castillo announced the dissolution of Congress on December 7, a few hours ahead of a scheduled impeachment vote. He wanted to convene a new Congress and rewrite the Constitution. But unlike the Fujimori plan, Mr. Castillo’s collapsed as the military, the police and even aides came out against him. Congress impeached him with 101 to six votes (with 10 abstentions), and Vice-President Dina Boluarte took charge as the new President. While Peruvians avoided a major constitutional crisis by defeating Mr. Castillo’s power grab plan, the whole incident should serve as a reminder of the challenges the young democracy faces. Congressional powers could be critical in preventing the rise of another Fujimori, but the constant clashes between the executive and the legislature and the back-to-back impeachment of elected Presidents are not signs of a healthy democracy. In the current political climate and context, it is nearly impossible for any elected President or legislature to have a reform agenda without triggering power clashes. And without reforms, one of the most unequal societies in South America would only get trapped in cycles of economic and political crises.



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