According to an implicit rule, ministers must leave when they lose the president’s confidence. In a courteous manner, an adviser will call and ask the official to put their post at the disposal of the president. This rule has completely fallen apart in Chilean politics.
Chile’s political landscape suffers a shortage of new faces and leadership. Parties therefore have had to boost members that are part of the cabinet, provoking many ministerial resignations. This has broken an implicit rule: ministers should never leave their posts on their own accounts. Getting a minister out had been the president’s prerogative.
In recent months, a considerable number of officials, even undersecretaries, mayors, and governors, have resigned to run for other positions. Most aim for a seat at the constitutional convention that will draft a new Constitution. But the public is growing more wary of politicians by the day. Yet our public servants – from the government and opposition alike – are changing jobs without losing their political status.
An Unprecedented Outflow
The list includes figures from the ruling National Renewal party to the Communist Party. Still, by running for the convention and showing their disregard for popular demands that politicians not be part of the body, the officials are not violating any law.
Of course, any public servant may change position. But the movement also exposes a government team that started crumbling less than three years into Sebastián Piñera’s term.
The outflux makes sense considering that the government is the most unpopular in modern history, rests on a coalition marked by conservative-progressive infighting that grew worse with the entrance of the Republican Party, and is being led by a president as predictable as he is clumsy trying to please the public. Loyalty can hardly be expected.
All 14 ministers with which Piñera started his second term have left, even confidantes like his cousin Andrés Chadwick. The president operates with a less trustworthy team than he had when mounting an extra-parliamentary opposition during the second Michelle Bachelet administration
First, Piñera decided who had to leave; now, ministers leave when they see more prestigious and challenging opportunities.
This government underwent the most cabinet changes since the return to democracy 30 years ago. It has had four interior ministers, five chief-of-staff, four social development ministers, and three at each of the other portfolios. Science Minister Andrés Couve, who started eight months after Piñera took office, represents the exception to the rule.
In addition, we must consider the failures of Mauricio Rojas, who lasted three days as Culture Minister, and Macarena Santelices, who was Women’s Minister for one month.
A Mounting – Political – Deficit
Without a doubt, the outflow makes the government’s political deficit plain.
Labor Minister María José Zaldívar also wanted to leave. But Piñera convinced – or begged – her to stay until the pension reform is done. By the way, that’s really unusual, the president asking his closest partners to remain on deck in the middle of a storm.
Among the most recent high-profile exits are Defense Minister Mario Desbordes and, just this Monday, Finance Minister Ignacio Briones. His departure illuminates the abandonment syndrome and like Desbordes, he wants to run for president.
Let’s see how a new ship sails.
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.