Chile’s Boric Tries to Relaunch as Honeymoon Ends Abruptly

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SANTIAGO, Chile — President Gabriel Boric of Chile is trying to relaunch an administration that has fallen out of favor in less than two months since he made headlines around the world for becoming the country’s youngest president and a possible symbol of the resurgence of the left in South America.

With opinion polls showing Boric with a marked erosion of support since he took office, the 36-year-old president has declared the transition period over and called on his ministers to act with “a sense of urgency” to meet the demands of Chileans.

“There has been a kind of relaunch of his narrative,” said Eugenio Tironi, a Chilean sociologist. “There has been a change in tone, a change in role and the government is suddenly much more active.”

Boric said this week that he was considering allowing the military to help with law enforcement in the violence-torn south of the country. Dozens of truckers are blocking key highways demanding action to guarantee their safety in the La Araucanía and Biobío regions, some 600 kilometers (360 miles) south of Chile’s capital.

Boric’s apparent willingness to ask the military for help on internal security issues, which he has resisted in the past, follows his acknowledgment that his nearly two months in office haven’t gone exactly as he hoped after coming to the presidency with 56 percent support. in a December runoff election.

“There have been difficulties and there have been mistakes,” Boric told local newspaper La Tercera in an interview published on May 1. “It is important to recognize our own responsibility.”

Opinion polls show that Boric’s shine seems to be fading fast among Chileans.

His approval rating fell to about 24 percent in the second half of April, a nearly 23-point drop since he took office, according to a Pulso Ciudadano poll published on May 1. It was based on 1,043 online questionnaires and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Another pollster, Cadem, reported Boric’s approval rating at 36 percent, a 14-point drop since he took office. That poll was based on 703 telephone interviews with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

With his recent moves, Boric is “taking note that the honeymoon was a little more abrupt than expected and he cannot appeal to youth or inexperience to justify his political mistakes,” said Cristóbal Bellolio, professor of political science. from the Adolfo Ibáñez University. in Santiago

Although shorter honeymoons for newly sworn-in leaders have become a global trend amid broader skepticism from those in power, Boric appears to have tested the patience of Chileans by taking too long to detail his plans for the job, Bellolio said.

“At first he abused that idea that they were going to take some time to first diagnose the situation before taking action,” he added. “But you have to act even if the diagnosis is not complete.”

As a student leader, Boric often led protests against the inequality that rocked a country once seen as the bedrock of political stability in the region. As a candidate, he promised to bring about a seismic change in the political landscape. Now, some of his voters are disappointed that change seems slow.

“There could be an effect that expectations were too high, along with expectations of the speed at which things would happen,” said Cristián Cáceres, a 54-year-old telecommunications engineer. “People definitely had unrealistic expectations.”

For now at least, Boric’s talk of changing the status quo has yet to come to fruition.

“It hasn’t implemented anything new,” said Cristóbal Huneeus, director of data science at Unholster, a software company that tracks lawmakers’ work. “You’ve talked about transformative reforms, but we don’t see any reform.”

For Raúl Ulloa, a 69-year-old optician from Santiago, Boric’s drop in approval is no mystery. He said the new president “doesn’t have a plan” and now he should “go to the middle and not be so extreme” if he hopes to win back support.

Analysts largely agree that the Boric administration is suffering from some self-inflicted wounds from a cabinet full of new faces. Several of these missteps involve the Minister of the Interior, Izkia Siches. In March, she was forced to abruptly cut short a visit to the Araucanía region, a hotbed of conflict with indigenous groups demanding land restitution, after shots were heard near her caravan. In April, Siches apologized after she mistakenly told lawmakers that a plane carrying Venezuelan immigrants expelled during the previous administration had returned to Chile with all passengers on board.

“It is a team that does not have much political experience in the executive. They got there precisely because they had never been there before,” said Claudia Heiss, director of political science at the University of Chile. “They are learning how to run a government and that has led them to make some mistakes.”

That has hit some Chileans hard, including Patricio Soto, 40, who says Boric’s administration “may have had the best of intentions, but a lack of experience for top jobs” has led to problems in government.

At the same time, however, Boric is dealing with some issues that would have presented challenges for anyone in his position.

“The economic situation is super relevant and anyone who would have been in power right now would be in trouble,” Heiss said. “We have an inflation rate that has not been seen in Chile since at least the return of democracy and we continue to be mired in an economic crisis as a result of the pandemic.”

Chile’s annual inflation rate hit 10.5 percent in April, breaking the double-digit mark for the first time in 28 years and showing an increase from 7.2 percent recorded in 2021.

Amid continuing economic difficulties, the Chilean government this week lowered its growth expectations for the year to 1.5 percent from 3.5 percent and raised its inflation estimate for 2022 to 8.9 percent.

However, Chileans are not only upset with Boric; they have become increasingly skeptical of the institution that is rewriting the country’s constitution.

Almost eight out of 10 Chileans voted in favor of rewriting the constitution in 2020, an overwhelming majority that showed the fervor for change in the country after the student protests. But now that the constitutional convention has got to work, many have doubts, and polls show a growing number leaning toward voting against the unfinished document in a September plebiscite.

Even some who support the reform are expressing some skepticism.

“I think that, as a society, we need to change the constitution,” said Daniela Arévalo, a 25-year-old architecture student. “But now I don’t trust how the constitutional process is progressing.”

Boric has been a strong advocate for constitutional reform and the future of his government is inexorably linked to what happens with that vote, as both are part of a historic process involving Chileans demanding change.

“If the government wins, it can breathe easy,” Bellolio said. “If he loses, it will amount to a political earthquake.”

Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The story has been corrected to show that Data Science at Holster is a software company.

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