Peru president dissolves Congress amidst a deepening political crisis
File photo of Pedro Castillo taken on June 25th 2021. © Jose Carlos ANGULO / AFP

Peru's President Pedro Castillo on Wednesday dissolved Congress and said he would rule by decree, in a move slammed as a "coup" just hours before a debate was due over his impeachment.

The former school teacher, who unexpectedly took power from Peru's traditional political elite, has faced non-stop crises, with repeated cabinet reshuffles, multiple corruption investigations and protests since he was elected in July last year.

"This intolerable situation cannot continue," the 53-year-old said in a televised address to the nation, wearing a blue suit and presidential sash.

He announced he was "temporarily dissolving Congress... and installing an exceptional emergency government."

He said he would convene a new Congress "as soon as possible to draft a new Constitution within a period of no more than nine months."

"From this date and until the new Congress is established, the country will be governed by decree law. A national curfew is decreed as of today from 10:00pm to 4:00am."

Castillo also declared the "reorganization of the justice system, the judiciary powers of the public ministry, the national board of justice and the constitutional court."

The announcement came hours before the opposition-dominated Congress was to debate its third impeachment motion against Castillo since he came to power.

"Today, there has been 20th century-style coup. It is a coup destined to fail, Peru wants to live in a democracy. This coup d'etat has no legal basis," the president of the Constitutional Court, Francisco Morales, told the RPP radio station.

A 'self-coup'

Peru's attorney general Patricia Benavides expressed her "emphatic rejection" of "any violation of the constitutional order," and urged the president to "respect the Constitution, the rule of law, and democracy, that has cost us so much."

Castillo's announcement comes more than 30 years after then-president Alberto Fujimori suspended the constitution and dissolved Congress in April 1992.

"President Pedro Castillo has carried out a coup. He has violated Article 117 of the Peruvian Constitution and has become illegal. This is a self-coup," political analyst Augusto Alvarez told AFP.

The opposition had sought to impeach Castillo for moral incapacity, a constitutional provision that has seen two presidents sacked since 2018.

Castillo avoided impeachment in a similar debate in March, but he has remained under fire.

He recently appointed his fifth prime minister and cabinet since his election, while thousands took to the streets in November to demand his removal from office.

Castillo is also under investigation in six corruption cases, including accusations against his family and political entourage.

"I have never stolen from my country, I am not corrupt," he said Tuesday.

'No room for a truce'

Castillo, 53, had been locked in a power struggle with Congress since the attorney general filed a complaint accusing Castillo of heading a criminal organization involving his family and allies that hands out public contracts in exchange for money.

While serving his five-year term that ends in 2026, Castillo cannot be criminally tried and prosecutors had called for him to be "suspended," an unprecedented move which Congress was evaluating.

In October, Castillo requested mediation by the Organization of American States (OAS).

The body visited the country in November and called for a "100-day political truce," which fell on deaf ears.

"There is no room for a truce, nobody wants to talk with a president like Pedro Castillo, who does not project confidence," analyst Alvarez said earlier.

Impeachment proceedings are relatively common in Peru because its constitution allows one to be brought against a president based on the more subjective premise of political rather than legal wrongdoing.

It has created much political instability: In November 2020, Peru had three presidents within one week.

The OAS's human rights commission last year raised concerns about the "moral incapacity" constitutional provision, saying it had been distorted due to "a lack of objective definition."