Chile Finance Minister Steps Down to Run for President

Chile’s Finance Minister Ignacio Briones stepped down from his post to run for president, joining a crowded field of contenders as the ruling coalition struggles to revive its popularity.

The country needs substantial reforms that are implemented in a responsible manner, Briones said at a ceremony at the presidential palace on Tuesday. He was replaced by Rodrigo Cerda, who is a director of state-owned copper company Codelco and a former head of the government budget office.

Chile Finance Minister Steps Down to Run for President

Briones is jumping into an open presidential race after steering Chile through its worst recession in 40 years. He will run in primaries for the ruling coalition ahead of the presidential election in November. While Briones has been praised by investors, he may face challenges in broadening his support after speaking out against popular early pension withdrawals that have put billions of dollars into consumers’ pockets.

Roughly 76% of Chileans have heard of Briones and 41% approve of his work as minister, according to a public opinion survey by Cadem published this week. The poll questioned 710 people nationwide between Jan. 20-22.

‘Extremely Difficult’

Briones became finance minister in October 2019 as Chile was in the throes of nationwide protests over inequality and poor government services. While the coronavirus pandemic has prevented large-scale demonstrations, smaller protests have continued in central parts of Santiago into this year.

He took over at an “extremely difficult, intense” moment, President Sebastian Pinera said today, before thanking him for putting together a social agenda that saw the country through the worst of the protests and then the pandemic.

Briones designed a system of loans, grants and employment subsidies that have prevented a surge in poverty. He has said that defeating populism is key to social and economic development.

At the same time, Briones has also said the government wasn’t “fast enough” implementing help during the pandemic, and that the delay spurred early pension withdrawals. Job informality has also surged on his watch.

Meanwhile, Cerda said he will focus initial efforts on advancing a pension reform in Congress. “We hope to make progress as soon as possible,” said Cerda, who holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago.

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