Chile’s lower house rejected on Thursday a move to impeach President Sebastian Pinera over allegations he failed to safeguard human rights during weeks of unrest across the country.
Small-scale protests that began in October over an increase in metro fares quickly mushroomed into large-scale demonstrations over growing inequality that have lasted for nearly two months. At least 26 people have died as a result of the unrest, which has also caused billions of dollars in damage and resulted in widespread allegations of abuses by security forces.
The centre-right Pinera, a billionaire businessman, has borne the brunt of the blame. His approval rating at the end of November plunged to just 10 percent, the lowest for a president since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990.
The odds of impeachment were considered low before legislators tossed the motion out on grounds that it did not meet the constitutional threshold for removing a sitting president.
Even if a vote in the lower house had reached the simple majority needed to move the debate to the Senate, the governing coalition legislators were expected to handily block the two-thirds vote needed for his removal.
Maria Luisa Puig, a Latin American specialist with Eurasia Group, told Reuters News Agency before the bid was rejected that “efforts to remove Pinera are not likely to succeed due to the composition of Congress”.
Puig added that, in reality, public anger went beyond Pinera alone.
The most prominent grievances, from overhauling Chile‘s decrepit pension system to slashing public services costs, date back to decisions made well before Pinera’s time, she said.
Failure to act quickly
The politicians behind the impeachment bid, who come from several opposition parties, had charged that Pinera, who early in the crisis declared Chile “at war with a powerful enemy”, failed to act quickly enough to stamp out abuses by riot police. At the onset of the protests, Pinera decreed a now-lifted state of emergency.
Pinera’s legal team contends there is no link between his actions and any constitutional wrongdoing. Pinera has promised deep reforms to police protocols.
Francisco Soto, a University of Chile public law professor, told Reuters “the Constitution establishes a high bar for impeachment because it would put the country in a very complex situation”.