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Conservative billionaire Piñera returns as Chile's president

Chile president
Photo by Sebastián Vivallo Oñate/Agencia Makro/Getty Images

Sebastián Piñera, a conservative billionaire who previously served from 2010 to 2014, began his second term as president of Chile on Sunday, succeeding center-left leader Michelle Bachelet.

What to watch: The pro-business Piñera will look to revitalize an economy struggling with slow growth and slumping copper prices, the country's chief export. He won convincingly in December, but lacks a congressional majority and could face some of the same political headwinds as the last time around.

Piñera made his $2.8 billion fortune from credit card company Bancard and entered the public sphere as a senator in 1990. In 2010, he became Chile's first right-wing president in the two decades after dictator Augusto Pinochet left office.

The highlights:

  • Piñera presided over a booming economy which grew at over 5% annually during his previous four year term, per NYTimes.
  • He oversaw the massive rebuilding effort that followed the devastating 2010 earthquake, as well as the mining accident later that year that trapped 33 men for 69 days.
  • Despite his economic success, Piñera struggled politically — especially in dealing with a powerful student movement protesting education costs — and left office with an approval rating in the 30s.

Copper prices and investment dipped under the socialist Michelle Bachelet, and the economy grew at a sluggish pace of just 1.8% a year. Piñera won 55% of the vote in the December run-off election, largely on the back of his economic record.

What to expect:

  • Per The Economist, Piñera's main goals are to restore economic growth to 3.5 to 4% a year and to simplify the tax code, including lowering the corporate tax rate.
  • He also plans to make most technical education free and inject "more public money into health care and the privately managed pension system."
  • But unlike his predecessor, Piñera will not have a majority in congress and will be forced to reach across the aisle to members of Bachelet's coalition.

The bottom line: The student movement that helped tank Piñera's approval rating in his first term has weakened, but not by much. The businessman president will need to play politics and rely on experienced members of his cabinet in order to sell his policies.

Haley Britzky 3 hours ago
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Russia continues pointing fingers after ex-spy poisoning

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with medalists of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games
Russian President Vladimir Putin poses with medalists of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov / AFP / Getty Images

It's become relatively understood with world leaders that Russia probably poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal.

The bigger picture: The U.S. has said so, the E.U. recently voiced support for the U.K. in saying so; the only person who won't say is Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Kremlin has "spread a flurry of theories" to explain the nerve-agent attack, with "one common theme: It was anyone but Russia."

Zachary Basu 13 hours ago
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What to watch for in Egypt's sham election

Sisi billboard
A billboard in Cairo voicing support for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the upcoming election. Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images.

Egyptians will vote March 26-28 in a presidential election that is sure to see incumbent strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi handily defeat Mousa Mostafa Mousa — the sole challenger who hasn't been jailed or intimidated into dropping out.

The backdrop: Sisi, the former minister of defense and commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, led a military coup to topple President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. He formally came to power in 2014 after winning 96% of the vote in the presidential election, but has since seen his popularity wane under deteriorating economic conditions and an oppressive human rights record.