By Marco Aquino
LIMA, March 17 (Reuters) - Peru’s President Ollanta Humala won congressional approval for a new cabinet on Monday, overcoming political tensions triggered by criticism from opposition lawmakers over the role of the first lady in his government.
Lawmakers voted 66 to 59 with 9 abstentions in a confidence vote to back Humala’s cabinet. It was the third vote by Congress to ratify the Peruvian leader’s latest cabinet after he failed to garner enough support in two previous attempts last week.
Members of Congress abstained in a confidence vote for the 19-member cabinet on Friday, with some complaining the cabinet change reflected meddling from powerful First Lady Nadine Heredia, a leading adviser to her husband and a co-founder of the ruling Gana Peru party.
The political turmoil came as Peru’s economy has slowed because of weak mineral exports, hitting the popularity of Humala, a former left-leaning nationalist who has veered to the right since winning office.
Humala reshuffled his cabinet - his fifth since taking office in 2011 - in late February, appointing Raul Cornejo as his new prime minister. Cornejo is one of Humala’s longest-serving cabinet ministers and is widely viewed as having close ties with the president and his wife.
Cornejo’s predecessor, Cesar Villanueva, stepped down after a public dispute with the first lady and Humala’s finance minister. His comments that the government was studying a wage increase were denied publicly by Heredia.
Heredia has often enjoyed higher popularity ratings than her husband, raising speculation she might try to succeed him in presidential elections in 2016, a possibility she has repeatedly denied. Her husband is banned constitutionally from running for a second term.
With talk over her presidential ambitions overshadowing Humala’s administration last year, Heredia lowered her public profile but returned to the spotlight during Villanueva’s resignation.
A poll published by Ipsos Peru on Sunday showed she has suffered a sharp tumble in popularity, slipping to 27 percent in March from 40 percent in February, which Ipsos linked to her perceived role in Villanueva’s resignation.
The survey also found that a majority of Peruvians do not think Heredia has a positive influence on her husband. The poll showed Humala with 25 percent support, down 8 percentage points from February.
The poll of 1,206 people was conducted between March 11 and March 14 and had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.