Chile's Bachelet names new cabinet

President replaces cabinet chief and finance minister among other officials as she battles falling popularity ratings.

    Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has named a new cabinet, hoping the changes will arrest the fall in her popularity ratings and overcome scandals that have rocked her administration.

    Among the changes announced on Monday, Bachelet replaced Rodrigo Penailillo, the cabinet chief who had been linked to a company investigated for corruption, with Jorge Burgos, former defence minister.

    Rodrigo Valdes, a banker, was named new finance minister, replacing Alberto Arenas.

    It is the first time since the return of democracy in 1990 that a president has replaced the finance minister mid-term.

    Economists welcomed the appointment of Valdes, who is currently chairman of state bank Banco del Estado.

    He has a doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was formerly a deputy director of the International Monetary Fund.

    He has also previously worked at the finance ministry, as co-ordinator of economic policy in the early 2000s.

    Furthermore, Bachelet changed the presidential spokesperson and the ministers of justice, defence, labour, culture and social development.

    "This new, inspiring and demanding phase requires renewed energies and new faces," she said at the presidential palace.

    Approval ratings

    Bachelet is trying to salvage an ambitious reform package that includes an education overhaul, the legalisation of abortion in some case and changing the dictatorship-era constitution.

    A poll released on Thursday showed Bachelet's approval rating at 29 percent after a series of scandals that have hit politicians, the business elite and even her own family.

    Talk to Al Jazeera: Michelle Bachelet

    That is the lowest for her current administration and her 2006-2010 presidency.

    The CEP firm surveyed 1,434 people between April 6 and May 3, and the poll had a margin of error of three percentage points.

    It also showed that 65 percent of Chileans polled said the reforms pushed by Bachelet's administration were improvised instead of well thought out.

    Bachelet's coalition controls both chambers of congress but her agenda has hit obstacles including a slowing economy and a bank-loan scandal involving Bachelet's family, as well as a campaign-financing scandal involving conservative politicians and a prominent financial company.

    Another tax-related election-financing scandal at Chilean SQM mining company forced the resignation of its chief executive.

    Bachelet recently asked congress to fast-track measures to fight corruption and announced that businesses will no longer be able to contribute to political parties, which will now be financed by the government.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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