Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced several changes to his Cabinet yesterday, after his government’s approval rating fell to 31 percent, from 63 percent last October. The low approval is due in part to ongoing protests by students who demand reforms to the national education system. Justice Minister Felipe Bulnes will now take over the Education Ministry, and Pablo Longueira and Andrés Chadwick—two well-known senators from the conservative Unión Demócrata Independiente party, which is part of President Piñera’s Alianza por Chile coalition—have been assigned to the Ministries of Economy and Interior.
Thousands of students convened by the Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (CONFECH) have taken to the streets of Santiago and other main cities of Chile calling for reform of the education system inherited from the Pinochet-era. The protests started in mid-May this year and have intensified since then. According to a statement published on the CONFECH website, the mobilizations aim for the defense and restoration of public education, the increase of state expenditures on education, not-for-profit schooling, and democratization of educational institutions.
Mining and Energy Minister Laurence Golborne, who gained enormous popularity following the rescue of 33 miners in October 2010 and is thought to have presidential aspirations, will move to the Ministry of Public Works. He leaves behind the problem of increasing labor unrest at the state copper mine CODELCO.
Piñera has been criticized by other political leaders for his cabinet reshuffle. José Antonio Gómez, from the opposition Partido Radical party, questioned why the president has appointed a total of four senators from his Alianza por Chile coalition—out of 16 in the Senate—to ministry positions. Noting that party leadership will now designate senators to fill those seats, Gómez and others argued that the decision undermines democracy, as it does not give citizens the opportunity to vote for those who will represent them.