Why is Piñera’s government so unpopular in Chile? | guardian.co.uk
Despite economic growth and low unemployment, Chileans doubt Piñera’s ability to manage their fledgling democracy
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 August 2011
A year ago, 33 Chilean miners were trapped in a mine in the north of the country. Sixty-nine days later, they were rescued and the president of Chile, Sebastian Piñera, was rewarded with a record approval rating. Those days now seem like a distant memory. Piñera’s stock has fallen, so much so that he has become the most unpopular president since 1990, when democracy was restored in Chile. According to the CEP (Centro de Estudios Públicos), only 26% of citizens approve of Piñera’s government, while 53% reject his administration.
Piñera: A steady decline in popularity
Rightwing Piñera took office in 2010, promising a new way of governing, but he has not been able to fulfil this commitment. Piñera travelled around the word after rescuing the miners, showing pride while receiving compliments. Those were happy days, but they were fleeting. A few months later, his popularity dropped. The first negative episode was related to football – the most popular sport in Chile – and the resignation of Marcelo Bielsa, the World Cup 2010 national coach. Piñera was one of the owners of Colo-Colo, the most important football team in the country. When Bielsa, who was widely admired by Chilean fans, left the country, Colo-Colo’s administrators (who were Piñera’s partners) were blamed for his resignation. Chileans saw a political hand in this operation.
This episode is a good example of the conflict of interest issues that Piñera has faced since his first day in office. In fact, if Piñera had not been the owner of Colo-Colo, the perception would have been different. Indeed, the majority of his ministers and collaborators are former CEOs and important businessmen. Piñera was never concerned about the conflicting relationship that exists between business and politics.
Piñera’s administration is bad at handling serious problems; as exemplified in the slow rebuilding process after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in February 2010 in the south of Chile. The government was not capable of acting promptly and thousands of victims are still waiting for their problems to be solved.
Piñera’s government has tried to modify the negative perceptions with social measures, such as six months of maternity leave and free health insurance for low-income retired people. These measures are similar to those adopted by the previous socialist government led by Michelle Bachelet, but they have received criticism because of their populist characteristics. While Bachelet created a social security network and finished her administration with high levels of citizen approval, Piñera has not been able to improve the citizens’ assessment of his presidency. Polls show that, despite economic growth and low unemployment, Chileans doubt his leadership, his credibility, and his ability to manage the country. The government is facing its worst period ever, and nothing indicates that this situation will change.
What the people want: same opportunities for all
Chile is today a more complex country than it was two decades ago, but the current political system does not recognise this. Piñera is member of a stubborn elite that continues to control the country as it always has, without recognising that Chileans now live in a completely different context. He believes that Chileans have the same needs that they had during their return to democracy: political stability and public security. However, most citizens want to build a more equal society, with the same opportunities for all.
Recent demonstrations and protests have overshadowed his administration. Citizens are going to the streets to demand better education, gay marriage, and the protection of the environment. They’re asking for changes in one of the most unequal societies in the world. After 21 years of democratisation, citizens have lost their fear and are in the streets. On Thursday night, massive demonstrations took places in various cities. Students have been mobilising since 12 May and they now have 72% citizen approval, which is almost three times greater than that of the government.
Image: Sebastian Piñera. (AP Photo)