No world leader could have welcomed the global coronavirus pandemic more than embattled Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, for whom the crisis was, ironically, a lifeline amid political turmoil. Since October 2019, Chile has been rocked by enormous protests of citizens demanding a new constitution. Those protests paralyzed the economy and put President Pinera’s right-wing coalition in the vexing position of acceding to a constitutional plebiscite while also opposing the constitution’s replacement. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic offered him an opportunity to flex his technocratic and managerial skills, demonstrate leadership, and distract from the unrest.
However, the shortcomings of President Pinera’s response to the virus have led to the near-collapse of his governing coalition. Chile now faces the twin challenges of managing a pandemic and navigating the tempestuous waters of a referendum. Both problems will need to be solved by a presidential administration that has almost entirely been abandoned by its governing partners, despite the next elections being well over a year away.