September 17, 2017 / 4:23 PM / 2 years ago

Peru's Kuczynski swears in new Cabinet, opposition signals support

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski made Vice President Mercedes Araoz his new prime minister in a Cabinet shuffle on Sunday that won praise from the opposition - a sign his year-old government will likely avoid a fresh standoff with Congress.

Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and new Minister of Health Fernando D'Alessio pose for a picture during his swearing-in ceremony at the government palace in Lima, Peru September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Kuczynski also swore in Deputy Economy Minister Claudia Cooper as his new finance minister and replaced his justice, education, health and housing ministers.

The new, more socially conservative Cabinet sparked criticism from Kuczynski’s centrist and leftist supporters that he had caved into the right-wing party Popular Force, which has an absolute majority in Congress.

But opposition lawmakers said they welcomed the change.

“I wish success to Meche (Mercedes Araoz) and the new Cabinet,” Luis Galarreta, the head of Congress and Popular Force lawmaker, said on Twitter. “The country needs change and the government needs a chance to mend its ways.”

Kuczynski was forced to form a new Cabinet after Congress revoked its confidence in the outgoing one on Friday following a dispute over a teachers strike and his government’s education policies that stress gender equality in the school curriculum.

Congress ousted Kuczynski’s former education minister late last year and was preparing to censure his second education minister last week.

Kuczynski’s new education minister, Idel Vexler, previously criticized the education reforms that Kuczynski vowed to defend in a message to the nation on Friday.

A 78-year-old former Wall Street banker, Kuczynski took office a year ago with a promise to modernize Peru. He broadly shares the same free-market economic ideology as Popular Force, but is more socially liberal.

Kuczynski’s incoming housing minister, Carlos Bruce, is the first openly gay Cabinet member in Peru.

Araoz was finance minister in the 2006-2011 right-wing government of former President Alan Garcia, whose party often works closely with Popular Force. Vexler also worked in Garcia’s government.

“We have to work with them to keep making progress on the country’s development,” Araoz said in televised comments after being sworn in.

Kuczynski’s approval rating dropped 7 points to a new low of 22 percent in Ipsos’ latest monthly poll, which was taken from Sept. 13 to 15 and published on Sunday in daily newspaper El Comercio.

Reporting by Marco Aquino and Teresa Cespedes in Lima; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney

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