Chile's Bachelet names new Cabinet amid popularity crisis

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Posted: May 11, 2015 2:32 PM
Chile's Bachelet names new Cabinet amid popularity crisis

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chilean President Michelle Bachelet named a new Cabinet on Monday, hoping the changes will arrest the fall in her popularity ratings and overcome scandals that have rocked her administration.

Among key changes, Bachelet replaced Cabinet chief, Rodrigo Penailillo, who had been linked to a company investigated for corruption, with former Defense Minister Jorge Burgos.

Banker Rodrigo Valdes was named new finance minister, replacing Alberto Arenas. It is the first time since the return of democracy in 1990 that a president has replaced the finance minister mid-term.

Bachelet also changed the presidential spokesman and the ministers of justice, defense, labor, culture and social development.

"This new, inspiring and demanding phase requires renewed energies and new faces," Bachelet said at the presidential palace.

Bachelet is trying to salvage an ambitious reform package that includes an education overhaul, the legalization of abortion in some case and changing the dictatorship-era constitution.

"I don't think this marks a change in politics because it confirms that the government's objective is passing its reforms. But there is a change with the nomination of Jorge Burgos because he's known for always looking for agreements and avoiding confrontation," said Marta Lagos, head of the Santiago-based polling firm Mori.

"With the change there's a decrease in conflicts and it helps Bachelet retake her agenda. But it doesn't mean that the corruption problems and her low popularity will go away."

A poll released Thursday showed Bachelet's approval rating has fallen to 29 percent after a series of scandals that have hit politicians, the business elite and even her own family. That's the lowest for her current administration and her 2006-2010 presidency.

The CEP firm surveyed 1,434 people between April 6-May 3, and the poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

It also showed that 65 percent of Chileans polled said the reforms pushed by Bachelet's administration were improvised instead of well thought out.

With the Cabinet change, Bachelet "seeks to include people who are unimpeachable personally and professionally because that's what the country demands," said Marcelo Mella, a political analyst at Santiago University.

Bachelet's coalition controls both chambers of Congress but her agenda has hit obstacles including a slowing economy and a bank loan scandal involving Bachelet's family, as well as a campaign financing scandal involving right-wing politicians and a prominent financial company.

Another tax-related election-financing scandal at Chilean SQM mining company forced the resignation of its chief executive.

Bachelet recently asked Congress to fast-track measures to fight corruption and announced that businesses will no longer be able to contribute to political parties, which will now be financed by the government.

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Associated Press writer Eva Vergara contributed to this report.

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Follow Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao