Pinera Approval Falls to New Low as Chile Students Protest

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera’s approval rating in June fell to a new low for his administration as students stage protests throughout the South American country for education reforms.

Pinera’s approval rating fell to 31 percent in June from 36 percent in May and 63 percent in October, when the government rescued 33 trapped miners in the country’s north, Santiago-based research group Adimark GfK said in a report on its website today. The June 6-30 poll of 1,104 people had a margin of error of 3 percentage points, Adimark said.

The decline in Pinera’s approval comes as tens of thousands of protesters marched throughout Chile in June to pressure authorities to overhaul the education system. The unrest and falling approval rating could complicate Pinera’s efforts to pass legislation through Congress, Risa Grais-Targow, Latin America associate at Eurasia Group, said.

“He’s really going to struggle to move forward with his agenda,” Grais-Targow said before today’s report was published. “We’ve already kind of seen that he’s stopped putting things forward because that seems to be the tactic to avoid confrontation or basically failing.”

Congress this week rejected a government proposal to increase the minimum wage and hasn’t approved legislation the administration fast-tracked in September last year to clarify the tax treatment of derivatives and promote currency hedging.

Campus Unrest

Pinera plans to present bills this year to overhaul the education system as part of a series of measures that includes creating a $4 billion fund to increase the number of scholarships in the country, he said in a televised address to the nation July 5.

The proposals are intended to end protests and advance negotiations with students and teachers, he said.

“I will take all measures necessary and introduce as many bills as it takes to implement the agreement,” he said of his education proposal. “I emphatically call on my compatriots to join with enthusiasm and commitment this noble, urgent and needed mission.”

Chile’s student confederation, known as Confech, and the teachers’ union will protest for additional reforms outside the presidential palace and public squares throughout the country today, according to a statement posted on the website of the University of Chile student federation Fech.

Protesters will pretend they’re at the beach after Education Minister Joaquin Lavin decided to call early winter vacations so students wouldn’t miss additional classes during June demonstrations.

The student demonstrations followed street marches in May by opponents of a Patagonian hydroelectric project. Workers at Codelco, Chile’s state-owned copper company, announced a 24-hour strike for July 11 to protest job cuts.

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