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LIMA (Reuters) - Peru's prime minister challenged the opposition-ruled Congress on Wednesday to dismiss the entire cabinet amid plans by lawmakers to oust a third minister, a move that would bring President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski closer to being able to call for new legislative elections.
Prime Minister Fernando Zavala, who also doubles as finance minister, accused Congress of trying to sabotage the government's education reforms by preparing to censure a second education minister in a year.
The president can constitutionally dissolve Congress if on two separate occasions it votes to dismisses the cabinet.
"We're presenting this question of confidence because nothing and no one should undermine the implementation of state policies," Zavala said in televised comments as he read from a prepared statement, flanked by the rest of the cabinet.
If Congress dismisses the cabinet, Kuczynski, whose approval rating has slipped to around 20 percent in recent polls, would have to appoint 19 new ministers. But it would give him a freer hand in governing by forcing lawmakers to risk losing their seats if they threaten to censure another minister.
A prime minister has not challenged Congress to renew its confidence in a cabinet in decades, said political analyst Fernando Tuesta - underscoring how rapidly relations between the executive branch and Congress have deteriorated in Kuczynski's year-old government.
Kuczynski took office last year after narrowly beating the longtime favourite, Keiko Fujimori, the eldest daughter of jailed former leader Alberto Fujimori. But Kuczynski's party won less than 15 percent of congressional seats while Fujimori's party, Popular Force, won an absolute majority.
Popular Force lawmakers have denied obstructing the government's plans and have urged Education Minister Marilu Martens to resign for not negotiating a quicker end to a teachers strike that dragged on for more than 2 months.
Martens was appointed in December to replace the previous education minister, Jaime Saavedra, who had been sacked by Congress five months into Kuczynski's term.
At the time, some of Kuczynski's supporters urged him to turn the censure into a vote of confidence in the cabinet in order to defend Saavedra, who is now a senior education director at the World Bank, and to limit the opposition's powers.
(Reporting by Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)