Chileans split on whether Bachelet can clinch social reforms

SANTIAGO Thu Apr 3, 2014 1:47pm EDT

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet answers a question during a news conference at the La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago, March 12, 2014. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet answers a question during a news conference at the La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago, March 12, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Ivan Alvarado

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chileans are split on whether center-left president Michelle Bachelet will deliver on her three flagship proposals for tax, education and constitutional reforms, a poll showed on Thursday.

Bachelet took office last month, vowing to tackle the Andean country's steep income inequality by hiking corporate taxes, "working towards" free education and shredding the dictatorship-era constitution.

Around 40 percent of Chileans believe she will deliver on these promises, 20 percent think she will fail and the remaining 40 percent have doubts or declined to answer, pollster Adimark said in its report.

Constituents are most confident in her ability to pass tax reform, which is being discussed in Congress at the moment. Bachelet only needs a simply majority to pass that measure, while education and constitutional overhauls require bigger majorities.

Bachelet has staked her presidency on these ambitious reforms, but analysts warn a notoriously tricky Congress, a slowing economy and her own wide-ranging coalition may ultimately curb some of those plans.

Some businessmen have complained tax increases would aggravate the economic slowdown. Others have aligned behind the government stance that raising tax income and improving education will create a more prosperous country.

Desire for reforms is sky-high among ordinary Chileans, who took to the street en masse in the past three years to clamor for improved social services amid an ongoing mining boom.

Frustration built up under former conservative president Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire businessman who was unable to connect with most Chileans. His popularity plummeted to the lowest levels for a Chilean president since the dictatorship ended in 1990.

In contrast, Bachelet, a pediatrician by training who was imprisoned under dictator Augusto Pinochet, is generally well-liked, especially by women and poorer Chileans.

Around 54 percent of Chileans approved of her in March, the poll showed, one percentage point more than at the start of her first term in 2006.

Roughly 20 percent disapproved, 10 percent neither approved nor disapproved and 16 percent didn't know or declined to answer.

Adimark polled 1,034 people between March 12 and 31, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by Andrew Hay)

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