Who is Dina Boluarte, Peru’s ‘accidental president’?

Former vice president, who takes helm after day of political chaos, faces myriad challenges in deeply divided nation.

Peru's new President Dina Boluarte speaks to journalists
Peru's new President Dina Boluarte said she plans to serve out her term - until July 2026 - rather than call early elections [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

Lima, Peru – Like many Peruvian leaders that came before her, Dina Boluarte can be described as an “accidental” president.

And just as most of those same past heads of state did, Boluarte is taking the helm of a deeply divided and frustrated nation after a series of dramatic and fast-moving political events.

“In many ways, she’s an accidental president,” said Jo-Marie Burt, an associate professor at George Mason University and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

“Like a lot of Peru’s recent presidents, none have been able to fulfill the normal five-year mandate, revealing the profound instability and exhaustion of the current political system,” Burt told Al Jazeera.

Boluarte’s rise comes after a frenetic day that saw her predecessor, President Pedro Castillo, impeached by Peruvian legislators and then detained by police on allegations that he had attempted a “coup”.

The 60-year-old mother, lawyer, and former vice president under Castillo was sworn in on Wednesday just hours after Peru’s opposition-led Congress voted overwhelmingly – 101 to 6 – in favour of removing Castillo from office.

The vote came after the left-wing, now-former leader attempted to dissolve the legislature and forge an emergency government, a move that was widely denounced as a violation of Peru’s constitution.

The political drama unfolded in less time than an average workday, as the nation watched hours of television news coverage of Boluarte’s swearing-in, and Castillo’s impeachment, arrest, and detention at a police prison east of the capital, Lima.

Peru’s attorney general has confirmed Castillo is being investigated on allegations of “rebellion” and “conspiracy” – and a judge on Thursday ordered him to seven days of preliminary detention. Thousands of Peruvians have taken to the streets, where some celebrated and others protested Castillo’s removal.

Political outsider

As uncertainty over the now-ex-president’s fate continues to swirl, attention is turning to Boluarte, who was largely unknown in Peruvian politics before running as Castillo’s running mate in 2021.

Like the ex-president, Boluarte hails from the country’s rugged hinterlands. Born in a small town in the southern Andean department of Apurimac, she is fluent in Spanish and Quechua.

Boluarte worked as a lawyer with Peru’s national registry and identification office, which manages birth, death and marriage certificates. And under Castillo, in addition to her vice president duties, she also served as minister of development and social inclusion before resigning from the position two weeks ago in another round of cabinet changes.

But she is assuming power amid deepening constitutional turmoil, a bitterly divided Congress and an electorate weary from political whiplash, rising food and fuel costs, and a nascent fifth COVID-19 wave.

And as a political outsider with few congressional allies or the backing of the far-left Free Peru party which catapulted her into national politics, she will have difficulty building alliances and filling high-ranking government positions, said Burt.

“She’ll have to separate herself from the prior president, which is a hard line to cross,” Burt said. “She is also going to face a Congress further emboldened and controlled by a loose coalition of far-right parties [that] have been gunning for Castillo’s removal and were thrilled by yesterday’s events.”

Message of unity

Still, Boluarte had been swift to rebuke Castillo’s attempt to disband Congress, taking to Twitter to say the manoeuver would worsen “the political and institutional crisis” in Peru.

Since her swearing-in, she also has pledged to form a unity government focused on promoting an agenda of social inclusion and battling corruption.

But Boluarte carries her own political baggage: This May, a constitutional complaint was filed over her role as a board member of two private, Lima-based clubs while she served as a government minister, a violation of Peruvian law that could have barred her from holding public office for 10 years. This week, a congressional probe concluded that Boluarte had not broken any laws.

On Thursday, she implored a political truce, initiating a round of discussions with various congressional blocks at the presidential palace. Media outlets in Peru have reported that the new president is in the process of forming a ministerial cabinet, which, under Peruvian law, requires a vote of confidence by Congress.

Peru's new President Dina Boluarte
Peru’s new President Dina Boluarte called for a political truce a day after she took office following the Peruvian Congress vote to remove President Pedro Castillo from office Wednesday and replace him with the vice president [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

The question now, said political analyst Cynthia McClintock, is whether Boluarte will be able to temper Peruvians’ desire for a new start. “As Peru’s first woman president, she may enjoy a bit of a honeymoon,” McClintock, who teaches political science at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera by email.

As a native of the country’s marginalised interior, a world away from the business and political classes in Peru’s capital, McClintock said “Lima-based legislators might fear a backlash if they remove the second consecutive president” from that area.

Some pro-Castillo protests

On Thursday, a fragile sense of calm prevailed in central Lima, where just one day earlier, large groups of Castillo supporters decried his arrest as a “kidnapping” by political foes and others went so far as to say Boluarte’s ascent was treasonous.

“[Boluarte] has betrayed our people. We’re out here to proclaim that we will never accept her as our president,” Clemente Dominico, a father and small business technician from the southern Andes who lives in Lima, told Al Jazeera during a protest on Wednesday.

Still, considering Castillo’s deep unpopularity among a majority of Peruvians, analysts have said his removal is unlikely to generate widespread national demonstrations.

Boluarte said she would fulfil Castillo’s term, which ends in 2026, but it is unclear whether she will agree to call early presidential and congressional elections. Eighty-seven percent of Peruvians believe that the best path forward for the country would be to call new general elections, according to a November poll by the Peruvian think-tank IEP.

Boluarte on Thursday suggested she would consider holding an early vote, which would require an amendment to Peru’s 1993 constitution. “I know there are voices indicating early elections and this is democratically respectable,” she said.

But new elections could bring their own challenges, said McClintock, as “political parties remain in severe disarray” in the country.

The question, said George Mason University’s Burt, “is whether [Boluarte] is going to be more interested in her own political survival, or be true to the mandate of political and economic change in which she has to somehow build a coalition of her own”.

“Both are extremely difficult and have their costs.”

Source: Al Jazeera