Peru's president reshuffles cabinet again amid political crisis

FILE PHOTO: New legal battle as Peru's attorney general challenges President Pedro Castillo

By Marco Aquino and Marcelo Rochabrun

LIMA (Reuters) -Peruvian President Pedro Castillo announced an updated cabinet on Friday, including leadership changes to six ministries, as his embattled administration engages in wide-ranging conflicts with its political opposition.

Among the new members of the leftist president's 18-member cabinet is Oliverio Muñoz, appointed as energy and mining minister for the major copper-producing nation.

Castillo also reappointed Finance Minister Kurt Burneo.

The shakeup follows Castillo's decision earlier on Friday to name Betssy Chavez, a close ally, as his new prime minister in an escalating political drama over the makeup of his cabinet and a possible no confidence vote.

Peruvian opposition lawmakers have said that President Castillo's appointment of a new prime minister was part of a maneuver to dissolve the legislature, after he suggested Congress had fired his previous prime minister even though a vote was never held on a dismissal.

Peru is mired in a long-standing clash between its independent state powers, which deepened on Thursday on Castillo's decision to reshuffle his cabinet after Congress rejected his request for a confidence vote, claiming legal requirements for the vote were not met.

"There is an executive coup under way to shut down Congress," conservative lawmaker Carlos Anderson told Reuters.

The confidence vote request was meant to pressure Congress with high-stakes consequences including firing the cabinet and dissolving parliament.

Since taking office last year, Castillo has overseen unprecedented turnover among his ministers, cycling through multiple cabinets.

Castillo said denying the confidence vote request was similar to Congress holding a no confidence vote and accepted his prime minister's resignation on Thursday.

Castillo has previously said the legislature and the attorney general have sought to carry out coups against him through impeachment attempts and criminal investigations.

According to the Constitution, if Congress issues a vote of no confidence, the entire Cabinet should resign. If Congress then issues a second no confidence vote, the president is entitled to dissolve parliament and call for legislative elections.

"It is what the President is openly seeking," legislator and retired military officer Roberto Chiabra, of the conservative Alliance for Progress party, told Reuters.

Outgoing Prime Minister Anibal Torres has denied that the confidence vote request was intended to shut down Congress.

Castillo has survived two impeachment attempts and right-wing opposition legislators are seeking support for a new impeachment trial against him, although they have acknowledged they do not have sufficient votes.

In 2019, centrist President Martin Vizcarra dissolved Congress after two votes of no confidence during an intense spat with the opposition. The following year, a new Congress ousted Vizcarra amid allegations of corruption.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino and Marcelo Rochabrun; Writing by Steven Grattan; Editing by Josie Kao and Edmund Klamann)