Peru’s first female president Dina Boluarte, who unexpectedly came to power on Wednesday after her former boss was ousted and arrested, will need to tread carefully to avoid her recent predecessors’ fate of being forced out of office early.
In a day of high drama, Pedro Castillo was removed from the presidency in an impeachment trial after he tried to dissolve Congress illegally in a bid to stay in power. That followed months of instability and two prior impeachment attempts by a hostile legislature.
One of Boluarte’s first official acts upon becoming president was to implore for a political truce and to pledge to form a broad cabinet of all ideological stripes.
But that could be tough in a country long riven by divisions between conservatives loyal to former president Alberto Fujimori, those dead set against “fujimorism,” and a broad chunk of the populace fed up with traditional politicians.
“Boluarte called immediately for a dialogue among all political actors. That’s easier said than done,” said Jason Marczak, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
The speech was her first after being sworn in as Peru’s sixth president in just five years and was an apparent gesture to win support from both the electorate and the unicameral Congress, where she has no party backing of her own after being expelled from Castillo’s far-left Peru Libre party earlier this year.
“The last Peruvian president to not belong to a political party, Martin Vizcarra, was impeached by Congress in 2020, leading to a wave of protests,” said Marczak.
A former civil servant, Boluarte is a relative unknown who shot to prominence alongside Castillo as the vice president on his ticket when the pair pulled off a shock election victory in 2021. But after Wednesday’s events, the 60-year-old Boluarte lambasted Castillo for his “attempted coup.”
Peruvian politics are notoriously volatile and, while her succession was cheered in the chamber, it is unclear how long she will be afforded a truce by lawmakers.
Boluarte may ultimately have to call for early elections to bring stability to a country that has been mired in political turmoil for years, largely because of a constitution that allows its Congress to easily oust presidents. Lawmakers have led seven impeachment trials in recent years.
“I know there are some voices talking about early elections and that is respectable democratically… later in coordination with all organizations we’ll be looking at alternatives on how to better reorient the country’s path forward,” Boluarte said on Thursday, her first full day in office.
Bringing forward elections slated for 2026 could revamp a fractious Congress, which faces extremely low approval ratings. In a November poll the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP) asked respondents what should happen if Castillo were impeached, and 87% said that a general election should be convened.
“She talked about staying (in office) until 2026 and she has the law on her side, but let’s not forget this is a two-part problem: the Executive and Congress. One part was resolved and there is still the other part of the problem, which is Congress,” said Fernando Tuesta, political analyst and former head of Peru’s electoral authority.
Also vital to having a successful administration will be appointing an experienced prime minister who can wrangle with a Congress known for its contentious relationship with the presidency, as well as a cadre of credible ministers.
“Even if she appoints someone who can fit this job description, he/she would struggle to make enduring alliances because Congress is such a choppy environment with little party loyalty and a very transactional mindset,” said Nicholas Watson, managing director of consultancy Teneo.
Boluarte is expected to announce the makeup of her cabinet in the coming days.
One of her first challenges will be to deal with diehard Castillo supporters, who are threatening to make her life difficult from day one.
“(Peru’s new President) Dina Boluarte is not our president,” said Sonia Castaneda at a protest on Wednesday in Lima, where some pro-Castillo demonstrators clashed with police. “Let the people elect her, then I will recognize her (as president).”