LIMA Dec 14 For the first few months of
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's term, the right-wing
populist party he narrowly beat in June's election helped his
technocratic government push out an initial raft of reforms.
But the tenuous ties between the two are rapidly unraveling
as the opposition-controlled Congress prepares to oust his
education minister on Thursday, despite Kuczynski's pleas to
spare him, raising the prospect of increasing political
instability in one of Latin America's fastest growing economies.
Just five months into Kuczynski's five-year term, the battle
over Education Minister Jaime Saavedra has exposed Kuczynski's
vulnerability to his defeated rival Keiko Fujimori, daughter of
jailed former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori.
Fujimori has declined to meet with Kuczynski since losing
her second bid for the presidency and has commanded her Popular
Force party from behind the scenes, heaping praise on lawmakers
who railed against Saavedra in a hearing last week, according
pictures of a cellphone chat taken by the Correo newspaper.
"Now they know who they're messing with," Popular Force
lawmaker Cecilia Chacon responded in the chat, later adding
publicly that she was referring to corrupt officials.
Popular Force has said Saavedra, a former World Bank
economist whom Kuczynski reappointed from the previous
government, must leave office because of allegations of
corruption in a contract for school computers on his watch.
But Saavedra's supporters said Popular Force lawmakers want
to halt tougher standards for private universities and have put
him in their crosshairs to flex their muscles.
Thousands of Peruvians marched in Lima to back Saavedra on
Monday, some calling for Kuczynski to dissolve Congress.
Kuczynski said he would not turn the vote on Saavedra into a
vote of confidence on Prime Minister Fernando Zavala, a move
that could limit Popular Force's ability to threaten him.
Presidents in Peru can order new congressional elections if
lawmakers oust the prime minister twice.
"We've decided to avoid a scenario of greater
confrontation," Kuczynski said in a TV and radio message to
Peruvians late on Tuesday. "The campaign ended seven months ago.
Now we have the tremendous task of governing Peru."
Opposition lawmakers said afterward that they would still
support the motion to force Saavedra from office.
Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker, wants to bolster
domestic demand with infrastructure investments ahead of an
expected slowdown in growth in 2018 when surging copper output
from new mines will subside. Popular Force tends to back
(Reporting By Mitra Taj; editing by Grant McCool)