Chilean President Sebastian Piñera performed a major shake up on his cabinet Monday, reshuffling several key ministers amid plummeting approval figures. Piñera approval rating recently fell to a low at 31% in part to due ongoing protests as students seek broad reforms to the nation's education system.
Among the changes, well-rated Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes will take over the Education Ministry as the government seeks to end the student conflict, which has become one of the most sensitive issues for public opinion according to pollster Adimark GfK's monthly poll released in early July.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of the capital Santiago and Chile's main cities in recent weeks in some of the biggest demonstrations since the dying stages of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship to demand changes in the university system.
Piñera tapped conservative Senator Pablo Longueira to replace Juan Andres Fontaine at the Economy Ministry. Longueira, who presided over the Independent Democratic Union conservative party from 1998 to 2004, is expected to bring his political weight to a cabinet seen composed of too many technocrats.
The highly popular Laurence Golborne, who's been named as presidential hopeful in recent polls, leaves his dual role as Mining and Energy Minister and heads to the Public Works Ministry, where he'll replace Hernan de Solminihac.
Solminihac switches places with Golborne and moves to the Mining Ministry. Fernando Echeverria, the regional authority for Metropolitan Santiago, will step in as Energy Minister, as a result of the breaking up of the major ministry in two.
Conservative Senator Andres Chadwick replaces Ena Von Baer as government spokesperson. Finance Minister Felipe Larrain remains intact in the cabinet.
Piñera has other major contentious issues in his agenda: Chile the world’s top copper producer and Codelco the government’s copper company faced the first national strike in nearly two decades, challenging the government in a growing feud over the future of the giant miner.
We're absolutely committed to Codelco belonging to the Chilean people but we also want it to be modern, efficient and fully capable of realizing its potential said Conservative pro-business Piñera. However unions are not convinced.
Another delicate issue is the bankruptcy of the giant supermarket chain La Polar and alleged organized fraud inside the company that has been going on for years exposed the weakness of the country’s financial controls. Furthermore some of those accused have in the past had business dealings with the President. The majority of customers of La Polar are low bracket income earners and had their credit cards manipulated so the company showed a profit.
In total Piñera announced eight cabinet changes on Monday in the second reshuffle since he took power in March 2010.
His election ended 20 years of centre-left rule in Chile and he has pushed a raft of labour, health, energy, electoral and environmental reforms, though his first year was consumed with reconstruction after a massive quake.
However, many Chileans say the billionaire president has failed to deliver on pledges to reduce poverty and raise living standards.