Michele Bachelet ‘fires’ her cabinet to regain the people’s confidence
What is a president to do when her government is not running smoothly?
Common wisdom says that she should evaluate her mandate, make some self-criticism and eventually, if she cannot handle the heat, perhaps she needs to step aside leaving her post to someone else who does not have approval levels as low as hers, especially when her popularity very low and when her job approval is opposed by almost three quarters of the electorate.
But in Chile, things are slightly different. The country’s president, Michele Bachelet, has decided to ask her ministers to resign while warning that in the next 72 hours, she, as the cacique of Chile will decide who stays and who goes.
As in many other countries in Latin America, Chile is experiencing a major crisis regarding credibility, ethics and responsibility and people no longer trust their government and their institutions.
The president’s popularity is at 31% and the rejection for her management has reached a record high of 64%. That is why Michelle Bachelet has made the drastic decision to request that all of her ministers voluntarily leave office.
“I have found it necessary to make an assessment of multiple elements including management assessment. That will determine what team will accompany me during the next cycle,” said the socialist president in an television interview.
Bachelet’s decision to fire her cabinet had been demanded by the political world in Chile, as her and her government sail the choppy waters of political and financial scandals that are being investigated by the Prosecutor. The accussations of wrongdoing have unleashed a scenario of crisis in the Executive, and the parties and democratic institutions like Congress.
The fall of her entire cabinet, however, especially her interior minister, Rodrigo Peñailillo is considered key to her second administration which debuted in March 2014.
The situation is now unsustainable for the 41 year-old Peñailillo who in February saw his name involved in the so-called Caval case, a plot involving Bachelet’s daughter in law and her firstborn, Sebastian Davalos. The scandal has caused a wound to the confidence in the president.
It was February 5 when a Chilean magazine published details about a millionaire real estate company of her daughter Natalia Compagnon, Bachelet was on vacation with her family in southern Chile, so Peñailillo, from Santiago, was the designated person to handle the management of the crisis.
The president was at her summer home next to Dávalos and his wife and from that place, the Minister of Interior was blamed for not having sized the seriousness of the events that ended a week after with the resignation of Bachelet’s firstborn.
In the interview given yesterday, Bachelet spoke about what happened in those key hours of the Caval Case: “People called me and told me little parts about the issue. Otherwise, I would have immediately returned to Santiago.”
Peñailillo represented until a few months ago the generational replacement of the political center left new majority, which in the last few weeks has faced its own crisis.
In mid-April it emerged that Peñailillo had done business deals with a consulting firm known as AyN, a company founded by the collector of money for political campaigns Giorgio Martelli, which received $245 million from a mining company known as Soquimich.
Soquimich belongs to the former son in law of Augusto Pinochet. The money, according to the prosecution corresponds to services that were not really done by Soquimich.
Peñailillo said that he had indeed done some work for the company, but he never actually showed those reports.
On Sunday, he began a media campaign to attempt to demonstrated that he had done the work for Sochimich, but after several erratic interventions released in part by the newspaper La Tercera, things began to get complicated. Apparently, the publications were almost identical copies of texts posted by Eurobask in 2009.
With his interior minister in trouble, crumbling popularity figures and months of political scandals, including in her family, Bachelet again attempted to take control of the public agenda with the announcement of the fall of her cabinet.
The president tried last April to promote her ‘deep reform against corruption’ and a constituent assembly to form a new constitution that would replace the one established during Augusto Pinochet’s years in power.
The effect of Bachelet’s move, however, only lasted a few days and again the situation was complicated for Peñailillo, who has faced a strong public and open demand to leave office.
Bachelet had resisted this change of cabinet. He delayed the decision for weeks, especially while she waited for internal party elections.
After the election was over, Bachelet gave herself a few hours to finish forming her new team, which in all likelihood will be integrated by several ministers that currently make up the Executive. The main question is who will replace Interior Minister Peñailillo.