Coronavirus in Chile POLITICS

Piñera Surprises With Cabinet Reshuffle

SANTIAGO – President Sebastian Piñera has made several changes to his cabinet. Amid continuously rising COVID-19 infections and fierce negotiations with the opposition over a crisis aid package, four ministers were replaced. Health Minister Jaime Mañalich keeps his post, though, despite facing fierce criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The cabinet change was triggered as Social Development Minister Sebastián Sichel (Independent) was removed from government and asked to lead state lender Banco Estado. He will be replaced by Cristián Monckeberg, who was Housing Minister, and is member of the president’s Renovación Nacional (RN) party. Felipe Ward (UDI) will take over from Monckeberg. Ward, in turn, was Secretary General of the Presidency, a job that Claudio Alvarado (UDI) will take.

Piñera strengthened his Chile Vamos coalition by removing Sichel and keep posts limited to members of coalition parties. Replacing Ward with Alvarado should also smoothen talks with the opposition on an aid package to combat socioeconomic effects of the worsening COVID-19 crisis. As daily La Tercera reported, Ward “did not achieve to organize parliamentarians at the time of a vote, he did not strengthen ties with the opposition, and he could not contain many unconstitutional initiatives.”

The replacements, however, also triggered controversy. Observers expected the sacking of Health Minister Jaime Mañalich. The minister is under pressure over his handling of the health crisis while “the peak” is nowhere near. According to polling firm Cadem, Mañalich is worse evaluated than the  consistently popular Sichel, who maintained an approval rate of 50 percent versus Mañalich’s 32 percent in May. Keeping Mañalich is a clear expression of support from the president, who has worked with Mañalich for years.

Trading ministerial posts during a crisis is not unusual for Piñera. Last October, during the height of the social unrest, Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick, along with several others, had to go. Chadwick, however, is the president’s cousin and retains much influence as a trusted adviser.

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