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Peru's PM to Double as Finance Minister After No-confidence Vote

Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (L) and new Economy Minister Fernando Zavala wave to the audience during the swearing-in ceremony at the government palace in Lima, Peru, June 23, 2017.

Peru's Prime Minister Fernando Zavala was sworn in as finance minister on Friday, taking on the task of reviving the faltering economy and defusing conflict with the right-wing opposition that toppled the outgoing finance minister.

Centrist President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski appointed Zavala to manage the economy of the world's second-biggest copper producer while keeping him in his post as prime minister. A government source who spoke on condition of anonymity said Thursday that Zavala would only head the finance ministry temporarily.

Zavala, a 46-year-old former executive at brewer SABMiller, served as finance minister in 2005 and 2006 when Kuczynski was prime minister and is a widely respected economist with a diplomatic style.

"Wishing the best for Minister Zavala for the good of our country," opposition lawmaker and president of Congress Luz Salgado told Zavala on Twitter in a rare cordial exchange.

The cabinet shuffle caps weeks of mounting friction with the opposition-controlled Congress that delivered a vote of no-confidence to the outgoing finance minister over accusations he tried to pressure the comptroller to approve a controversial contract.

Markets in Peru, where a free-market economy has been in place for a quarter century, have remained stable.

But Kuczynski's political vulnerability threatens to disrupt his ability to govern effectively in the remaining four years of his five-year term. Economic growth in Peru has slowed sharply after a graft scandal and heavy flooding.

Kuczynski's party has just 17 seats in the 130-member Congress, while his former electoral rival Keiko Fujimori's right-wing populist party controls 72. Four ministers, including two of Kuczynski's closest advisers, have already stepped down amid controversy since he took office.

Kuczynski's decision to task Zavala with running both the finance ministry and the cabinet suggests Kuczynski does not have a pool of trusted economists to draw from, said Pedro Tuesta, the chief Latin American analyst for 4Cast-RGE.

"It says a lot about the lack of candidates," said Tuesta.

Kuczynski, a 78-year-old former Wall Street trader, took office with promises to cut taxes and bolster infrastructure projects to jump start domestic demand. But a graft scandal over Brazilian builder Odebrecht and heavy flooding derailed those plans.

The central bank now expects a 2.8 percent economic expansion this year, down from 3.9 percent in 2016.

On Thursday, in an apparent bid to placate the opposition, Kuczynski said it was time to evaluate pardoning Fujimori's imprisoned father, former autocratic president Alberto Fujimori.