Polling firm Criteria’s most recent monthly survey – one of the methodologically most solid – showed that President Sebastián Piñera’s November approval rating reached barely 7%, with 87% disapproval. This represents the lowest evaluation a president reached since Criteria started this survey. And it’s worrying that the opposition cannot even jump on that opportunity.
President Sebastián Piñera’s numbers are abysmal. The 7% approval Criteria recorded is even lower than the figure for Dec. 2019 when the social outbreak that started on Oct. 18 peaked. The Center for Public Studies (CEP) registered 9% presidential approval back then. Considering all evaluations across Latin America during the last three decades, Piñera’s results are among the worst, only matched by Alejandro Toledo when he governed Peru and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.
Piñera’s record highlights the uncertainty an extremely weak government creates.
No Reason to Celebrate
But the truth is also that Piñera has governed almost without counterweight these three years. His low approval has nothing to do with the actions of the opposition. Piñera has been responsible for Piñera’s problems. These stem from permanent unforced errors, excess of optimism and arrogance, abuse of clichés, daily gaffes, plus public annoyance toward the president. And not even announcements or bonuses or the greenlighting of the second 10 percent pension fund withdrawal change that.
Just recently he was strolling along one of Chile’s most exclusive beaches, taking pictures with members of the public. The detail? He did not wear a mask, just when the country began to experience the ravages of the second coronavirus wave. This act triggered broad criticism, but fortunately for the president is not reflected in the Criteria survey for time reasons.
Despite this dramatic moment for government palace La Moneda, things are not much better for the opposition, or rather the oppositions.
Reduced to – and happy with – the position of distant spectator, the opposition is inconsequential on the country’s major issues. A less than mediocre profile during the social uprising and the Covid-19 outbreak, weak and confusing measures related to the issues of the process toward a new Constitution, in which it also failed to defend seats reserved for native peoples, determine the public perception of the opposition.
Is it possible to understand that almost 80% of voters opted for changing the Constitution and the opposition could not capitalize on that moment? It is evident that citizens rather than parties mobilized, but at least they could have been smart enough to try and channel the public’s feelings. Instead, only one month after the plebiscite – when the ruling party was down completely – opposition parties failed to put together a common list for the primaries for the mayoral and governor elections.
The opposition panorama is bleak, even though it should be more auspicious after the plebiscite. We have left-wing coalition Broad Front on the verge of breakdown. Its key party, Democratic Revolution (RD), just lost two representatives who resigned because of the chaos. In addition, the project for the second 10 percent pension fund withdrawal exacerbated the lack of unity.
Although the House majority voted in favor of the bill, three senators – Ricardo Lagos Weber (Party for Democracy), Carolina Goic (Christian Democracy) and Pablo Letelier (Socialist Party) – sank it by voting against it, in what seemed an attempt to contain the bill’s initiator, Pamela Jiles (Humanist Party), rather than enable savers to access their own resources. The three claimed that if La Moneda took the project to the Constitutional Court, as it threatened to do if the bill passed, everything would take even longer. Beyond the government’s move to conquer the project, the vote revealed the divisions among the oppositions.
The lists for constituents that develop a new Constitution must be registered by Jan. 11. This will be the last litmus test – and opportunity – for the two blocks that are vying for representing the opposition. But signs that Constituent Unity and Broad Front/Communist Party can make on offer to the country are nowhere to be seen, even though the current trajectory equals political suicide. The only option to reach a two-thirds majority in this process is to set up a common list, else the oppositions will hand the critical issues to the right.
If an agreement is not reached for the Constituent Convention, it is likely that a large part of the effort made by citizens – not the parties – to change the Constitution, will generate great frustration. And that would create annoyance and indignation of many citizens who hoped for change, taking demands into the streets.
Afterwards, “the opposition” and its leaders should not dare repeat the phrase elites uttered in response to the social outbreak: “We did not see it coming.”
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.