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Peru's Congress Fails to Ratify Humala's New Cabinet

Peru's President Ollanta Humala speaks during an interview at the government palace in Lima, July 12, 2014.
Peru's President Ollanta Humala speaks during an interview at the government palace in Lima, July 12, 2014.
Reuters

Peru's President Ollanta Humala failed to find enough support in Congress to ratify his new cabinet on Thursday after key conservative allies withheld their votes, underscoring his waning political power as the economy slows.

The crisis threatens to topple Humala's sixth cabinet as opposition lawmakers attack the new prime minister, as well as the finance minister and energy and mines minister.

Complaints about the ministers range from allegations that they cater to lobbyists to criticism of their inability to jumpstart the economy and keep doctors from striking.

Peru's economic growth rate, once one of the region's fastest, has become ammunition for Humala's critics because it has slowed to its weakest pace in five years.

After more than 15 hours of debate in Congress, 63 lawmakers abstained from voting to ratify Prime Minister Ana Jara, 50 gave her a vote of confidence and one voted 'no.'

One opposition lawmaker waved a sign that read “0.3 percent" - June's disappointing year-on-year growth rate - as he called the government inept and unworthy of a vote of confidence.

Humala swore Jara in as his sixth prime minister in three years in late July. She was previously his labor minister and is widely known as a close friend of the influential First Lady, Nadine Heredia, a frequent target of the opposition.

If a majority of lawmakers cast 'no' votes against Jara in a future session, the cabinet will be dissolved and Humala will be forced to make new appointments. In the meantime, the cabinet can continue governing as new votes are called.

Humala appeared unfazed by the political turbulence.

“I think that once passions calm, Congress will make a decision based on the interests of the country,” Humala said in televised comments to reporters after an event in the northern region of Cajamarca.

A second vote on the cabinet has been scheduled for Friday morning.

Humala's previous prime minister underwent three votes before securing congressional approval in March. That marked the first time in more than a decade that the constitutional ratification requirement was not just a routine formality.

The conservative block of lawmakers that bailed Humala out of the crisis in March by voting for his cabinet at the last minute said it would not do so again this time.

“The government in general does not give us confidence,” said legislator Luis Galarreta with the PPC party.

The conservative block of seven lawmakers, known by the initials PPC-ACC and affiliated with former presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has helped Humala push key economic proposals through Congress in the past.

Galarreta said it is not demanding that Finance Minister Castilla resign as was reported in local media. But he said Castilla should be replaced with someone more capable of countering the economic slowdown.

Humala, a centrist former military officer and once a left-leaning radical, has continued the open-market economic policies of his predecessors.   

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