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Chile president sees popularity tumble after quarantine gaffes

. Jul 07, 2020
chile president sebastian pinera Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Photo: Prensa Presidencia

In pandemic times, a quick trip to buy a bottle of wine has the potential to spark a national crisis. That’s what happened to Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, who was caught breaking quarantine alongside his security team to shop at an exclusive wine store. Worse than the act itself, Mr. Piñera’s indiscretion occurred while Chile faces the worst stage of its Covid-19 epidemic, with an average of almost 5,000 new cases every 24 hours.

And this is not the first time the president has been caught breaking social isolation rules. On June 24, Mr. Piñera was criticized for attending his uncle’s funeral, which had 30 people in attendance, exceeding the maximum limit of 20. The optics of the event were worsened by the wake ceremony after the service, which included live music.

</p> <p>More than a slip, the two recent controversies followed a series of government conduct that has caused public outrage, such as the resignation of Health Minister Jaime Manalich. Two weeks ago, the head of Chilean health stepped down after an independent report proved the country had over 5,000 Covid-19 deaths, not the 2,000 Mr. Manalich had officially reported.&nbsp;</p> <p>This distrust and anger toward the government could cause serious consequences for the president, who — we easily forget — had <a href="https://brazilian.report/latin-america/2019/10/23/crisis-chile-repeat-2013-brazil-warning-future/">approval ratings of just 9 percent </a>back in January. When the crisis arrived, Mr. Piñera&#8217;s administration acted quickly and effectively at first and managed to claw back some scraps of popularity. His image improved and approval ratings hit 29 percent late in May — bad, but much better than 9 percent.</p> <p>But now that rally appears to have stopped, and the president&#8217;s popularity is going down again.</p> <p>Besides the crisis involving the Health Ministry and the Covid-19 numbers skyrocketing, Chileans have one eye on a constitutional referendum, originally scheduled for October 25 but now postponed. As one of the demands of last year&#8217;s anti-government protests, the vote will allow Chile to decide whether or not it wants to form a new constituent assembly, reforming the laws of the land.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3097073" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3097073/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Chile after Sebastián Piñera</h2> <p>If President Piñera manages to complete his term, he will only pass the presidential sash on to his successor in 2022. Since 2006, this hasn&#8217;t been a problem for political leaguers from any side of the aisle. Mr. Piñera first won in 2010, succeeding center-left president Michele Bachelet. In 2014, Ms. Bachelet won again, before passing the torch on to Mr. Piñera a second time in 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>This alternation of power has been Chile’s ‘secret’ to maintaining its institutional balance ever since the end of General Augusto Pinochet’s bloody military regime. But this could change, as the moderate right-wing represented by Sebastián Piñera seems to be weakened by the latest events. Meanwhile, the left-wing doesn’t have a successor with the same pull as Ms. Bachelet, who is now leading the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.&nbsp;</p> <p>Chilean documentary filmmaker Carola Fuentes, director of “Chicago Boys” told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that there is no reason for panic. Though there is “always a possibility for reactionary movements”, Chile tends to lean toward social-democracy.</p> <p>&#8220;It seems to me that there is a certain awareness, borne onto the general population and that can mark the change in the constitution in October, those social-democratic ideas can be imposed on the possible emergence of extremist ideas,” Ms. Fuentes said.&nbsp;</p> <p>The human rights abuses to which Mr. Piñera’s administration subjected his own population — which led to a <a href="https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/chile">United Nations’ report</a> about the case — would by itself make 2020 a difficult road to ride for the president. With the pandemic, every single mistake has turned into another reason to blame the government.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is true that this government has already faced the pandemic with image problems, with low confidence levels, which makes it difficult for any authority to work. But that doesn’t hide the fact that health decisions were confusing, contradictory, from the beginning, with hidden and inaccurate information [which led the resignation of Minister Mañalich],” added Ms. Fuentes.

 
Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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