- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2016

The winner of Peru’s closest presidential election in history will take office on Thursday, but with only 18 congressional seats dedicated to his party, a honeymoon period is looking quite unlikely.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski defeated Keiko Fujimori last month when he won 50.1 percent of the votes.

Ms. Fujimori, daughter of incarcerated ex-president Alberto Fujimori, held almost a five-point lead one week before the run-off election. But a last-minute endorsement from leftist leader Veronica Mendoza, combined with a scandal involving Ms. Fujimori’s top aide, boosted 77-year-old Mr. Kuczynski’s campaign.

The former World Bank economist has promised to bring important changes to the energy and mining sectors. He plans to streamline regulatory approval for extractives projects, reduce social conflicts and formalize Peru’s largely informal mining sector.

But the new leader may be hard-pressed to push his reforms through Congress, where he finds little support.

Peruvians For Change, Mr. Kuczynski’s party, won just 18 of 130 congressional seats. Though Ms. Fujimori is also a right-leaning politician, her party— the Popular Force party— holds 73 seats in Congress. With 56 percent of the seats, the Popular Force party has the power to veto.

Experts believe Ms. Fujimori’s political career is far from over— the 40-year-old is likely to run again in 2021. It may be in her favor to cooperate.

“There is still ambition in Fujimori to win power in the next election,” said Luis Oganes, a JP Morgan world banker. “They cannot afford to be a really obstructionist bunch that prevents anything from happening in the next five years. They have a vested interest in trying to restore some confidence in Congress.”

Mr. Oganes said he’s more concerned about opposition from the left.

Though Ms. Mendoza endorsed the former finance minister, she did so to prevent Ms. Fujimori from taking power. Ms. Mendoza has pledged that her 20-seat force in Congress will oppose Mr. Kuczynski’s right-leaning policies now that he’s been elected.

“They have nothing to lose,” Mr. Oganes told a gathering at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank focused on Latin America. “They don’t have to show that they are responsible in Congress. I think part of their campaign in the next election will be showing that they were a tough opposition.”

Regardless, Mr. Kuczynski will spend his early days striving for unity. Some say he could grant house arrest for Ms. Fujimori’s father, currently serving 25-year prison term for crimes against humanity and corruption.

On Tuesday, Mr. Kuczynski said he will not sign the pardon requested last week, but reiterated that he is ready to sign a law, if proposed by Congress, allowing elderly prisoners to finish their sentences under house arrest.

“I will certainly sign that [law], but I will not sign the pardon,” he said, adding that the law must be “generic,” not drafted to apply to one person.

Experts expected Mr. Kuczynski to use Cabinet appointments to unify the parties. Fernando Zavala, an economist with experience in both the public and private sectors, will serve as Mr. Kuczynski’s Prime Minister. The choice received praise from politicians across the board.

Mr. Kuczynski revealed the rest of his “all-star Cabinet,” which features mostly technocrats, like the president-elect himself. Critics say that the Cabinet’s lack of political experience could give the opposition-led Congress an even stronger advantage.

Peruvian presidents are historically notorious for being disliked by the public. President Humala will step down Thursday with about a 19 percent approval rate, one of the lowest ratings in Peruvian history.

As Mr. Kuczynski enters office, he enjoys about 59 percent approval from the Peruvian people, recent polls show. But in five years, it will become clear whether Mr. Kuczynski has fallen victim to the same trend as his predecessors.

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