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Ex-banker Kuczynski sworn in as Peruvian president

Friday, July 29, 2016 - 06:54
39242348 - 29_07_2016 - PERU-INAUGURATION-KUCZYNSKI.jpg
Former Wall Street banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was inaugurated as Peru's new president on Thursday, vowing to kick-start the economy and unite a country torn by a photo-finish election.

[LIMA] Former Wall Street banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was inaugurated as Peru's new president on Thursday, vowing to kick-start the economy and unite a country torn by a photo-finish election.

The 77-year-old center-right economist extended an olive branch to defeated rival Keiko Fujimori's party, which controls Congress, saying he would need their help to pass reforms.

He promised to work for all Peruvians, outlining his vision for a "social revolution" in his inaugural address before Congress.

"I will seek equity, equality and fraternity among all Peruvians," said the man known simply as PPK.

Peru needs "not just economic, but human growth," he said, vowing to extend basic services such as schools, hospitals and drinking water to the one-third of Peruvians who lack them.

The normally staid Kuczynski, who is known as a technocrat with a stellar resume, choked up as he took the oath of office, then donned his new red and white presidential sash over his pinstriped suit.

Peru is one of Latin America's fastest growing economies, but growth slowed under outgoing leftist president Ollanta Humala, from 6.5 per cent in 2011 to 3.3 per cent last year.

Mr Kuczynski vowed to stimulate the economy, revive the key mining sector, fight the poverty that affects 22 per cent of Peruvians, crack down on corruption, and strengthen the police and prisons to reduce crime.

Foreign investors and markets have welcomed the new president as a reliable pair of hands.

"Kuczynski's government is likely to remain highly supportive of foreign investment, with minimalist state intervention," said Diego Moya-Ocampos of consultancy IHS Country Risk.

He predicted Mr Kuczynski would seek to expand Peru's domestic refining and smelting capacity, and pointed out that his first scheduled trip is to China - which he called a key player in the president's strategy to make Peru a "metallurgical powerhouse." But a large bump is lurking in the road.

Mr Kuczynski's party, the center-right Peruvians for Change, has just 18 seats in the 130-member Congress.

The new legislature is dominated by allies of Ms Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced and jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori.

Her right-wing party, Popular Force, has 73 lawmakers in Congress.

None of them applauded at any point during the inauguration, Mr Kuczynski's camp complained.

It could prove tough for the new president to advance his reform agenda.

There may be lingering bad blood from the election. Ms Fujimori took five days to concede as results trickled in from the remote reaches of the Peruvian Amazon.

In the end she had little choice but to recognise defeat, by less than a quarter of a percentage point.

The race opened old wounds dating back to the 1990s, when Ms Fujimori's father was president.

Now serving a 25-year prison sentence for massacres by an army death squad, Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) is fondly remembered by some Peruvians for his populist streak, his ruthless crackdown on the leftist rebel group Shining Path and his management of a strong economy.

But his authoritarian legacy was also heavy baggage for his daughter.

Her 78-year-old father's supporters are now pressuring Mr Kuczynski to pardon him.

The president-elect has said he is willing to sign a law granting house arrest to elderly and ailing prisoners such as Mr Fujimori, but will not issue a pardon.

Mr Kuczynski, the son of a Jewish doctor who fled Nazi Germany, has had a long career in business and finance.

Educated at Oxford University and Princeton, he has an impressive resume including stints as economy minister and a World Bank economist.

He stressed his age and experience during the campaign.

"I'm old, but my noggin is still working," he said.

But he sometimes struggles to connect with ordinary Peruvians.

He speaks Spanish with an American accent, betraying his long years in the United States. Some Peruvians call him "El Gringo."

Seeking to lighten the burden of his outsider status, he donned a traditional multicolored woolly hat at campaign rallies, played the flute and trotted out his mascot, a man-sized guinea pig - a symbol of Peru.

AFP

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