Peruvian Congress will debate the third vacancy motion against President Castillo

The vacancy motion, which seeks Castillo’s dismissal, requires 87 votes to oust him. This is the third impeachment process that he is facing in less than a year and half in office.

December 02, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
President Pedro Castillo faces third impeachment process in less than a year and half in office. (Photo: Pedro Castillo/Twitter)

Peru’s Congress, on Thursday, December 1, with 73 votes in favor, 32 against, and six abstentions, approved the third vacancy motion for debate against leftist President Pedro Castillo. The motion had been presented by opposition legislator Edward Málaga two days earlier.

Málaga, of the center-right Purple Party, presented the vacancy motion against President Castillo seeking his dismissal for “permanent moral incapacity” to continue in office, and accusing him of “irresponsible dismantling of the public administration and the clientelist takeover of State institutions.” The motion is based on the arguments of the Prosecutor’s Office and current investigations opened against Castillo.

It was expected that the motion would be approved, since it was presented with the signatures of 67 legislators and required only 52 votes to enter into debate. It received the support of parliamentarians of the far-right Popular Force, Popular Renewal, Avanza País, We are Peru, and Alianza para el Progreso, among other conservative parties.

This is the third parliamentary attempt to remove Castillo from office in the less than a year and half since his term began. The first motion failed to garner enough votes to be admitted in Congress in December 2021 and the second was rejected after being debated in March 2022.

The impeachment procedure will begin next Wednesday, on December 7, when either the president or his defense lawyer or both will appear before the legislature to respond to the accusations. Following this process, the motion will be voted on. 87 votes will be required to oust Castillo, which could be difficult since the progressive parties that support Castillo hold 44 of the 130 seats.

Nevertheless, the promoter of the motion, Málaga, after presenting it, told local media that he was confident that the motion would get more votes than it needed. Málaga said that several pro-government legislators had told him in confidence that they would vote for the vacancy because “Castillo had let them down.”

At the same time, the spokesman for the parliamentarian bench of the left-wing Free Peru party, Waldemar Cerrón, said that the bench has yet to make a decision in its internal meetings, but stressed that the party would always be on the side of democracy and, as such, would always defend it.

The political conflict between the Executive (Presidential) and Legislative branches continues to deepen in Peru. Last week, on November 24, right-wing forces, which hold a majority in the unicameral parliament and have been promoting destabilization attempts against the Castillo government and his appointees since their inauguration in July 2021, rejected an important confidence motion presented by the president. This led to the resignation of the president’s entire cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Aníbal Torres.

On November 25, Castillo swore in congresswoman Betssy Chávez as the new PM and the head of the Council of Ministers. Chávez is Castillo’s fifth prime minister. Previously, she had served as the Minister of Culture and the Minister of Labor and Employment Promotion in Castillo’s government. Along with Chávez, the head of state also ratified 12 ministers and changed six.

In the past 16 months in office, Castillo has also been forced to reshuffle his cabinet four times and has changed over six dozen ministers over disputes and disagreements with Congress. He has also had six investigations opened against him, accusing him of the alleged crimes of corruption, criminal organization, influence peddling, accomplice to collusion, personal concealment against the administration of justice, as well as plagiarism of his master’s thesis.

Providentially, the ball is in the Castillo government’s court now. The rejection of the confidence motion had opened the possibility of the closure of Congress. According to the Peruvian Constitution, the president can close the parliament in the event that the plenary session denies him a vote of confidence on two consecutive occasions. The Castillo government can call for a second confidence vote on the bill, which, if also rejected, would empower the president to dissolve Congress and call for fresh legislative elections.

The now-rejected confidence motion sought the approval for a constitutional reform bill aimed to guarantee the country’s political stability and generate favorable governance conditions. It would have repealed various laws approved by the opposition majority, including Law 31,355, which reduces the powers of the president, and Law 31,399, which impedes the citizen’s right to direct political participation and establishes that any referendum on a constitutional reform must first be approved by the Legislature. The head of the parliament, José Williams, said that the decision was agreed upon “because it deals with matters prohibited from raising a confidence vote for.”

Various progressive voices have expressed their support for the shutdown of Congress. Last month, on November 10, tens of thousands of Peruvians took to the streets of the capital Lima in support of Castillo, and against the repeated attempts by the country’s right-wing forces to remove him from power. The protesters demanded that the president shut down Congress and call for fresh legislative elections. They also called on Castillo to fulfill his electoral promises of profound social and economic changes and to take steps towards drafting a new constitution to replace the current neoliberal one, which was written and imposed in 1993 during Alberto Fujimori’s dictatorship (July 1990–November 2000).

Progressive leader and the founder of Free Peru party, Vladimir Cerrón, in a tweet, pointed out that Castillo had no option but to close Congress when the opposition sought to reduce the number of votes needed to impeach the president at the same time as it debated a vacancy motion against him.

“Congress plans to modify the rule to suspend the president with 66 votes, in addition to requesting a vacancy. The Executive would have no other way than to close Congress for survival,” said Cerrón.

In another tweet, he suggested a return to the 1979 Constitution to resolve the current political conflict and advance towards drafting a new constitution.

“The return to the 1979 Constitution is an elegant way out of this crisis. The existence of the coup, a fraudulent Constitution and referendum were demonstrated. Once returned, convene the Constituent Assembly, Voice of the People, Voice of God!” tweeted Cerrón.