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Political chaos in Peru looks likely to persist

Phave There have been six presidents in the past five years. It may have a seventh next year. The newest resident of the presidential palace, Dina Boluarte, took office last month after her predecessor, Pedro Castillo, failed in a failed coup. She did so under the Constitution and with the support of state institutions. She was, after all, Mr Castillo’s vice-president, elected to take his place in such circumstances. But in the eyes of many Peruvians, her presidency was illegitimate.

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Since Ms Boluarte took office, the country has been rocked by protesters demanding her resignation, fresh elections and a new constitution. Indigenous and rural people were particularly angry when Mr Castillo campaigned on the promise of upending the status quo. His 16 months in power have been marked by corruption scandals, incompetence and chaos. But many of those who voted for him blamed the elite in the capital, Lima. They were outraged when he was ousted so quickly.

The demonstrations were initially peaceful but quickly turned vicious and then deadly. By January 16, 50 people had been killed in the unrest, most of them civilians in clashes with police and troops. Some victims did not even attend the protests, such as Yhamileth Aroquipa, a 17-year-old girl who was killed by stray bullets.

Ms Boluarte described the protesters as “a group of radicals who are bleeding the country”. On Jan. 14, she extended the state of emergency for much of the country. Extremists were undoubtedly involved in the riots. Mr Castillo and his leftist allies have fanned the flames by insisting he was the victim of a coup. But analyst Gonzalo Banda said Ms Boluarte underestimated the power of indigenous and rural groups, especially in the south.

She has formed an alliance with centrist and right-wing parties that control Congress and has vowed not to resign. If she does, she will put the speaker, a retired soldier, in charge of the country. Instead, she called for new elections in April 2024, two years earlier than planned. This requires congressional approval. The idea has so far failed to appease protesters.

One proposal long promoted by the left is a new constitution. According to a recent survey, 40% of Peruvians support this now, twice as many as in 2021. But the polls also suggest that the search for a new political system may only spark more debate. A full 72 percent of respondents want the death penalty restored, and half want state control of strategic industries.

Mr Banda said Peru was “on a dangerous path” to the point of becoming ungovernable. “There is a very clear divide between Peru, which defends the current system, and Peru, which wants to change it.”

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