Why is Castillo having so much trouble?
The most obvious reasons are that Castillo lacks experience, a clear ideology and the ability to attract and retain talent. A former schoolteacher and union leader, Castillo was only loosely associated with his Peru Libre party until last year’s election, and his platform was not authored by him but rather by Marxist party leader Vladimir Cerron. Castillo’s candidacy was born of something of a compromise after the national election jury ruled that Cerron could not run due to a past corruption conviction. For this reason, Castillo’s success in the first round surprised many people, probably even the leaders of the Free Peru party, and it was not until the eve of the second round that Castillo began to put a plan in place and a team. After beating Keiko Fujimori, three-time presidential candidate and daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, by a narrow margin in a highly polarized race, we knew Castillo would struggle to chart a political path that could please everyone. the necessary stakeholders. So far, he has found himself at odds with his own party’s most radical faction, as well as business leaders and investors, while trying to survive a stalemate with a divisive Congress where he does not have a majority.
What could happen next?
Newly appointed Prime Minister Anibal Torres – whose predecessor resigned over domestic abuse allegations – now has 30 days to appear before Congress and seek a vote of confidence. Although several parties have threatened to veto Castillo’s cabinets in the past, lawmakers ultimately gave them votes of confidence. They will probably do it again in this case to avoid triggering a series of events that could cause them to lose their jobs. According to the constitution, the president can dissolve congress if he has twice denied the cabinet a vote of confidence, as happened under former president Martin Vizcarra in 2019. If that were to happen, not only protests would surely emerge, but a new electoral field would not solve the problems facing this congress or this administration, because a new body would be formed mainly by newcomers to politics without experience, strong party affiliations or strong ideological commitments .
What about impeachment?
A restless Congress will likely continue to seek ways to impede and oust Castillo. Yet the impeachment route also presents risks for lawmakers. If they try again and manage to muster enough votes to impeach the president, Vice President Dina Boluarte will take office. But if she were to resign or also be ousted, the congresswoman would take office and would have to call a snap election. The challenge here is that the constitution does not specify whether these elections would apply only to the presidency, or whether they would include legislative elections, creating another risk of lawmakers losing their jobs. Boluarte appears to back Castillo at this point by suggesting she would also go if he is ousted, but there is always a danger that she could strike a deal with lawmakers not to step down if they impeach him and she becomes president.
Peru has had five presidents in five years – what explains this wider instability?
The decade has not been easy for Peruvians. In addition to political unrest, the country has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita at various times and has been marred by ongoing corruption scandals. The relationship between the presidency and Congress has devolved into a protracted stalemate, given the ongoing threat that either side could oust the other at any time. Administration changes do nothing to ease tensions due to severe fragmentation in the country’s party system. The big problem with Peruvian politics is that there is no parties really left, only groups that share ideas and goals at the moment. That’s part of the reason why it’s been so difficult for Castillo and other party leaders to form coalitions in Congress, and why the last election has been so difficult to predict.
Are there parallels between the situation in Peru and that of other countries in the region?
Yes. The first round of the presidential election in Costa Rica earlier this month saw an unprecedented number of registered candidates, contributing to massive voter indecision. The political situation there is far from the same as in Peru, especially given Costa Rica’s peaceful and robust democratic history. Yet fragmentation and party abandonment are real risks in the region, along with voter discontent and the sanctioning of incumbents in the polls.
Yael Sternberg is a researcher in the Latin America office of Eurasia Group.