By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino
LIMA (Reuters) – Peru’s President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski faced criticism from across the political spectrum on Friday for calling for a march on the incoming Congress to help him press opposition lawmakers to reopen a polymetallic smelter.
Kuczynski, a 77-year-old former investment banker who takes office July 28, asked a crowd in the Andean district of La Oroya on Wednesday to march to Lima to demand Congress extend the date by which the town’s nearly century-old smelter must find a buyer or face liquidation.
Kuczynski’s centrist party will hold just 14 percent of seats in the incoming Congress. The right wing party of his defeated run-off rival Keiko Fujimori, Popular Force, will have 56 percent.
The comments inflamed tensions with opposition lawmakers ahead of his plans to ask them to grant him legislative powers to quickly push out his proposed reforms, including plans to ease taxes and boost infrastructure spending.
“A president is supposed to call for reconciliation and dialogue…the next Congress hasn’t even begun and he’s already fostering conflict!” said congresswoman Luz Salgado with Popular Force.
Past demonstrations to revive La Oroya’s smelter, shuttered in 2009 amid pollution and financial troubles, have blocked the only highway connecting Lima to the central Andes and ended in deadly clashes with police.
Political leaders called Kuczynski’s comments irresponsible.
“A president can’t incite that sort of thing,” said Cesar Villanueva, an incoming lawmaker with a party that supported Kuczynski in the second-round, in broadcast comments.
Kuczynski said the march would be peaceful and would not be needed if Congress extends the liquidation deadline so he can seek investments in upgrades needed to reopen the smelter.
“A peaceful march, who could oppose that?” Kuczynski told television reporters from a car on Thursday.
Kuczynski wants to boost Peru’s refining and smelting capacity so the Andean country can wring more value from its mineral exports.
Peru, on track to become the world’s second biggest copper producer this year, is rife with conflicts. Protests in far-flung provinces often turn violent and police have shot dead several protesters in recent years.
Kuczynski is widely viewed as a competent technocrat but has been criticized for having weak political skills.
“I think he forgot that he’s no longer a candidate,” said Marco Arana, a member of a leftist party that will have the second biggest block of seats. “I can’t imagine a president calling for protests throughout his five-year term.”
(Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by David Gregorio)