SANTIAGO Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is planning to shuffle his cabinet this week to allow ministers with presidential ambitions to exit, the head of a political party that is part of the governing right-wing coalition said on Monday.
Pinera's embattled conservative bloc suffered a loss in last month's local elections and is seeking to amass support ahead of former leftist President Michelle Bachelet's potential comeback to compete in the November 2013 presidential election.
Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne, a charismatic businessman, and Defense Minister Andres Allamand, a seasoned politician, are seen as the right's best chance at hanging on to the presidency.
"We've received confirmation that the cabinet shuffle will be in the course of this week and that it will include ministers aspiring to the presidency," Patricio Melero, a congressman and the head of the conservative UDI party, told reporters after a meeting with Pinera in the presidential palace.
Ministers seeking to compete for a place in Congress are also expected to leave the cabinet this week.
Presidents in Chile are banned from running for a second consecutive term. Billionaire Pinera has been battered by protests demanding free and improved education, stricter environmental laws and greater regional autonomy.
Popular Bachelet, currently the head the United Nations women's division, has not yet said whether she will run.
Analysts say high levels of absenteeism in the municipal elections and low popularity ratings for both the right and left highlight many Chileans' discontent with politics.
Chile, Latin America's poster child for economic stability, is set to grow a brisk 5 percent this year. But income inequality has barely budged since 1990 despite copper windfalls and it ranks the highest among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)