SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Thursday he is not grooming for a 2017 re-election bid, likely curbing months of speculation that the unpopular conservative may be eyeing a comeback.
The billionaire, whose term ends in March, is constitutionally banned from seeking consecutive terms.
His disarrayed right-wing coalition lost ground in last week’s congressional elections and its presidential nominee, Evelyn Matthei, is poised to suffer a heavy defeat against center-left Bachelet in December.
Pinera’s administration has been battered by student protests that sent his approval levels tumbling to the lowest levels for a president since Chile’s return to democracy 23 years ago, though they have crept up recently.
The former airline magnate has remained coy about his plans once he leaves La Moneda presidential palace, saying he would focus on “public service.”
“No, it’s not in my plans,” Pinera said, when asked during a talk show on local television channel Chilevision if he is mulling another bid for the top office.
“And it’s not in my wife’s plans either. At one point I asked her what she thought and she told me: ‘Don’t even think about it,'” he added to laughter.
Still, Pinera didn’t firmly rule out another bid.
“Who knows what can happen in four more years,” he said.
Though the copper-dependent economy has grown robustly during Pinera’s 2010 to 2014 presidency, the politician’s wealth and scant charisma have alienated him from many ordinary Chileans.
Some interpreted recent moves to distance himself from the legacy of the Augusto Pinochet military rule, such as closing a “luxury prison” for former agents of the dictatorship, as signs he was paving the way for another campaign.
These measures have helped his popularity bump up recently, reaching 40 percent in October, well-above April 2012’s all-time low of 26 percent.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Vicki Allen