LIMA, Peru (AFP) — Former Wall Street banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was inaugurated as Peru’s new president 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.
And 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,” he said, vowing “not just economic, but human growth.”
The normally staid Kuczynski, who is known as a technocrat with a polished 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 percent in 2011 to 3.3 percent last year.
Kuczynski vows to stimulate the economy, revive the key mining sector, fight the poverty that affects 22 percent of Peruvians, and strengthen the police and prisons to reduce crime.
Known simply as PPK, Kuczynski wants to extend basic services such as schools, hospitals and drinking water to the one-third of Peruvians who lack them.
The Fujimori problem
But his party, the center-right Peruvians for Change, has just 18 seats in the 130-member Congress.
The new legislature is dominated by allies of Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced and jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori.
Her right-wing party, Popular Force, has 73 seats.
That could make it hard for Kuczynski to advance his reform agenda.
There may be lingering bad blood from the election — 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 recognize defeat, by less than a quarter of a percentage point.
The race opened old wounds dating back to the 1990s, when 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 crack-down 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 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 Fujimori, but will not issue a pardon.
Kuczynski, the son of a Jewish doctor from 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.