Popularity of Chile's Pinera in the doldrums following pensions fiasco


FILE PHOTO: Chile's President Sebastian Pinera is seen at the presidential palace Cerro Castillo, in Vina del Mar, Chile November 8, 2020. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido/File Photo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Three quarters of Chileans disapprove of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera's management of the country, according to a poll published on Thursday, just days after the center-right septuagenarian suffered a bruising defeat in his bid to hold back a fresh raid on the country's free market pensions system.

The Center for Public Studies (CEP) found just nine percent of the 1,655 people around the country polled between April 12 and 23 said they approved of Pinera's stewardship.

The result comes just days after Chile's Constitutional Court rejected a bid by Pinera to block a third drawdown from pensions, and Congressional lawmakers said they would vote down a bill he floated to replace the opposition-led move.

Pinera's government has opposed raids on Chile's privately-held funds, the cornerstone of its capital markets, arguing they diminish already paltry payouts and that citizens should rely on its COVID-19 hardship handouts instead. Supporters of the drawdowns argue these are insufficient.

With Pinera now just nine months from the end of his second term, his low popularity is less of a risk to him personally than to his centre-right Chile Vamos coalition, whose members disagreed fiercely and publicly over the third pension withdrawal despite a government whip that they oppose it.

In little over two weeks, Chileans will go to the polls to pick mayors, governors and 155 people to draft a new constitution to replace the text created during the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship.

Chile Vamos has been slated to win a one-third majority on the body that would allow it to block radical change and guard Chile's free market, business-friendly model.

Nicholas Watson, from Teneo Intelligence, said that that assumption was now debatable.

"The constitutional dynamic converts what might have been a momentary crisis of executive authority and the early onset of lame duck syndrome into an issue that potentially has implications for Chile’s institutional design and workings for years to come," he said.

Meanwhile Pamela Jiles, an outspoken lawmaker representing a poor area of Santiago who championed the pensions raids and is running for president, received a 54 percent positive evaluation in the CEP poll and was among Chile's most recognizable politicians.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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