In Marx’s old In a word, history repeats itself like a farce. In 1992 Alberto Fujimori, an elected president, sent tanks to shut down Peru’s Congress and governed as an autocrat for the following eight years. Thirty years later, Pedro Castillo attempted to do the same, Been fumbling with this job since July 2021. On Dec. 7, he announced he would shut down Congress and call a new one with the power to draft a new constitution and “reorganize” the judiciary and prosecutor’s office. The effort failed within hours.
Instead, Congress voted 101 to 6 with 10 abstentions to remove him. After an emergency meeting of the High Command, the police decided to arrest him on rebellion charges as he was being driven to the Mexican embassy to seek asylum. His vice president, Dina Boluarte, has now succeeded him.
Mr Castillo, a rural schoolteacher with no previous political experience, was elected president with a margin of just 50,000 votes (out of almost 18m). Despite being from the hard left, he won over Mr Fujimori’s daughter Keiko, who is admired by many Peruvians. Abhorred and trying to overturn the election results with baseless allegations of fraud.
In just 16 months on the job, Mr. Castillo has proven himself unfit for the job. He went through five cabinets and some 80 ministers; they came and went almost every week, many of them as unqualified as the president himself. According to the chief prosecutor, he and several members of his family corruptly conspired to award public contracts. He denies all charges and claims political persecution.
Peru’s constitution allows Congress to impeach a president on grounds of “permanent moral incapacity”; two of Mr Castillo’s predecessors were ousted under that clause. Congress also tried twice to remove him. But they acted too early, missing the requisite 87 votes out of 130 lawmakers. The left in Congress remains solid. Others fear losing well-paying jobs if new elections are called after impeachment, as many Peruvians hope. A third motion, which gained more support, had been scheduled for a vote on Dec. 7, hours after Mr. Castillo’s ill-fated statement.
A former minister said Mr Castillo’s move was “the desperate gamble of a cowardly and incompetent man”. Unlike Mr Fujimori, Mr Castillo lacks military and street support. No tanks came to shut down Congress. No angry mob swarming. Even his supporters denounced him. After Fujimori’s regime ended, some commanders of the armed forces were imprisoned, and the armed forces said in a joint statement with the police that they would not support the president. Instead, Mr. Castillo gave Congress an incentive to remove him if they wanted to keep their jobs. Likewise, the left will suffer if it associates itself with such a similar move as Mr. Fujimori.
There is another precedent for Mr. Castillo’s actions. In 2019, then-President Martín Vizcarra shut down Congress after it appeared to refuse to send him a motion of confidence. It’s unwise, but there’s a difference. Instead of trying to interfere with the judiciary, he called for the immediate election of a new Congress.
Ms Boluarte became Peru’s sixth president since 2016. She is not well known to the public, but neither was Mr Vizcarra when he took office. He went on to become one of Peru’s most popular presidents, but was himself impeached in 2020. The new president is another leftist, but one who seems more capable. If Ms Boluarte wants the remainder of Mr Castillo’s term in office until 2026, she’d better form a broad-based government. Most Peruvians are relieved that the coup failed. ■