LIMA Dec 15 A motion to force Peru's education
minister from office sailed through the opposition-controlled
Congress on Thursday in the latest blow to President Pedro Pablo
Kuczynski's 5-month-old government.
Tensions between the executive and the right-wing populist
party Popular Force, led by Kuczynski's defeated rival Keiko
Fujimori, have escalated as opposition lawmakers pushed for the
ouster of Education Minister Jaime Saavedra because of alleged
corruption in public contracts on his watch.
Saavedra's supporters said the opposition targeted him to
defend powerful private universities facing tougher standards
from education reforms that he ushered in.
The drawn-out battle over Saavedra drew thousands of his
supporters into the streets this week and revealed divisions in
Kuczynski's centrist party. Some of his lawmakers said last week
that Saavedra should resign so the government could focus on
Peru's single-chamber Congress voted 78-0 to oust Saavedra,
with nearly all of Popular Force's 72 lawmakers backing the
motion. Most of the 18 ruling party lawmakers and members of a
leftist bloc walked out of the vote in protest.
The government hopes the motion to remove Saavedra will mark
an end to hostilities with Popular Force after Kuczynski backed
off a threat to turn the motion to oust him into a vote of
confidence on his prime minister, which could have brought him
closer to being able to constitutionally dissolve Congress.
Presidents in Peru call for new congressional elections if
lawmakers remove his prime minister twice.
But critics of Popular Force warned the success of the
ouster motion would embolden the opposition, allowing Congress
to pick off other members of Kuczynski's cabinet to destabilize
In the heated debate over Saavedra in recent weeks, one
opposition lawmaker said Congress could impeach Kuczynski if he
sought to dissolve Congress. At least two-thirds of Congress is
required for impeachment, some 10 votes more than Popular
Force's absolute majority.
Kuczynski had stridently defended Saavedra, a former World
Bank economist he reappointed from the previous government, and
has vowed to keep in place his education reforms that raised
school standards and teacher salaries.
Saavedra had a 40 percent approval rating but 52 percent of
Peruvians supported the motion to remove him, according to a
poll by Ipsos published on Sunday.
Kuczynski is expected to appoint a new education minister in
coming days in the second reshuffling of his Cabinet since his
government started July 28. In November, Kuczynski's defense
minister resigned for promoting a subordinate he was dating.
(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Bill Trott)