Pinera Dodges Impeachment Motion on Chile Protest Crackdown

(Bloomberg) -- Chile’s lower house of Congress rejected a proposal to impeach President Sebastian Pinera over his handling of nearly two months of unrest that has left more than 20 dead and caused a slump in economic activity.

The motion accused Pinera of supporting human-rights violations committed by security forces against protesters in recent weeks. Lower house deputies voted 73 in favor of the impeachment and 79 against, according to data on the lower house’s Twitter account.

Efforts to impeach Pinera were seen as unlikely to succeed, since it would have required members of the ruling coalition to vote against the president. Still, the debate added to tension after weeks of violence that crippled transport in the capital of Santiago and other major cities, shuttered shops and left thousands injured.

Pinera Dodges Impeachment Motion on Chile Protest Crackdown

Pinera isn’t in the clear from other accusations.

“The president’s opposition is likely to continue to throw constitutional challenges at him,” according to James Bosworth, a Bogota-based political analyst who writes the Latin America Risk Report newsletter. “With the president below a 15% approval rating, actions forcing Pinera’s allies to continuously cast unpopular votes to rescue the president will raise the pressure on the conservative side of the ideological spectrum.”

Chilean security forces have been accused of torture and sexual violence in their response to the demonstrations. Dozens of citizens have been blinded by rubber projectiles and gas canisters, with the toll of injuries far exceeding those at recent protests in Hong Kong, Spain, Lebanon and France.

Since October, the country has been rocked by mass protests that started out as demonstrations against a metro fare hike and quickly grew into a broader movement calling for better government services. Pinera first responded by declaring a state of emergency and calling in troops, before reversing course.

Pinera’s approval rating has evaporated during the protests, falling to as low as 10%, according to pollster Cadem. The impeachment was seen as a long shot, as it would have required a simple majority in the lower house followed by support from two-thirds of the Senate which would have to include defections from the president’s own governing base.

Pinera’s administration announced a range of economic and social measures, to try to calm the protests, and also agreed to a plebiscite on the chance of rewriting the constitution.

The lower house debate came one day after Chile’s Senate voted to ban Pinera’s former Interior Minister Andres Chadwick from public office for five years. The president’s cousin and one of his closest confidants, Chadwick was reprimanded for failing to stop human rights violations during the unrest. He resigned as Interior Minister few days after the unrest began and was replaced by Gonzalo Blumel.

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