Peru advances plan to move up elections to allay political crisis

Peruvian lawmakers advanced a plan Tuesday to hold early elections in 2024 as they attempt to end the political crisis sparked by the ouster of Pedro Castillo, the country’s former president.

Congress on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a constitutional reform that would pave the way for elections in April 2024, two years ahead of schedule. Lawmakers must approve the reform a second time during its next session in 2023 for it to take effect.

The move “gives Peru a path out of the current crisis” and satisfies many protesters’ demands for new elections, said Nicolás Saldías, Latin America analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Elections held earlier than that date were unlikely to occur as it would require complex negotiations and changes to electoral rules.”

The plan to move up elections came as Peru said it would expel Mexico’s ambassador in Lima, escalating a diplomatic dispute with the country, which has offered Castillo asylum and demanded his return to office.

“The government has declared Mexico’s ambassador persona non grata . . . for repeated expressions from that country’s authorities on the political situation in Peru, which constitute intervention in our internal affairs,” foreign minister Ana Cecilia Gervasi said.

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has backed Castillo since his impeachment earlier this month, insisting Peru’s president was a victim of a corrupt and racist oligarchy. In a joint statement, López Obrador was joined by leftist leaders in Colombia, Bolivia and Argentina in calling for Castillo’s return and alleging he was the victim of “undemocratic bullying”.

Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday night that it was withdrawing its ambassador, Pablo Monroy, for his own protection.

“Mexico firmly believes in dialogue and will continue keeping communication channels open,” it said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said the country had granted asylum to Castillo’s family members, who were inside the Mexican embassy in Lima, and was negotiating safe passage with the Peruvian government.

“It’s an independent and sovereign decision of Mexico,” Ebrard said.

Prosecutors have investigated Castillo, his wife, sister-in-law and two nephews on corruption charges. They deny wrongdoing.

Peru’s supreme court last week ordered Castillo held 18 months in pretrial detention on charges of conspiracy and rebellion.

Unrest has roiled the South American country since Congress removed Castillo from office and replaced him with his vice-president, Dina Boluarte. His ouster was precipitated by his attempt to shut down congress and rule by decree — a move described by analysts as a “self-coup”.

At least 26 people have died in the protests that have flared across the country, according to Peru’s health ministry.

Peru’s interim government declared a 30-day state of emergency on December 14 as violence erupted in the rural regions, which backed Castillo in his improbable rise in 2021 from a rural schoolhouse in the Andean highlands to the presidency.

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