Chile Senate gives Bachelet $ 2 to fund transit system

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SANTIAGO, Nov 21 (Reuters) Chile's Senate gave President Michelle Bachelet just 2 dollar to fix a new transit system in the capital that works so poorly it set off large public protests earlier this year and cut deeply into her approval ratings.

Bachelet asked Congress for 92 million dollar to prop up the system, and the SANTIAGO, Nov 21 (Reuters) Chile's Senate gave President Michelle Bachelet just 2 dollar to fix a new transit system in the capital that works so poorly it set off large public protests earlier this year and cut deeply into her approval ratings.

Bachelet asked Congress for 92 million dollar to prop up the system, and the $2 response was supported by a few key votes from her center-left coalition, revealing deep schisms in her 20-month-old government.

''I think this has hit bottom. The political system is not working, the coalition is not working,'' said Marta Lagos, director of the Chilean branch of MORI polling firm.

The same center-left coalition has run Chile for 17 years, since the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

The failed Transantiago system -- which established new routes for buses -- was developed before Bachelet was elected.

But she has taken the blame for the congestion and commuting delays it caused.

Bachelet, a socialist who became Chile's first woman president in March 2006, called the vote ''regrettable.'' She has seen her popularity ratings fall to 39 per cent this year, also damaged by violent protests by subcontracted workers at state-owned miner Codelco in July.

Analysts said that although Bachelet can likely bypass Congress to get money to fix the bus system, increasing in-fighting in Congress threatens her plans to make key changes to pension, education and labor laws.

''This affects confidence in (Chilean) politics,'' said Senator Camilo Escalona, from Bachelet's own Socialist Party and a spokesperson for the coalition that backs her.

''I think the government is going to have to sharpen its negotiating skills with legislators to win their backing for the government's key projects,'' said Fabian Pressacco, a professor of political science from the Alberto Hurtado University in Santiago.

Even far from the capital, Bachelet cannot seem to shake the Transantiago fracas.

In northern Chile last week victims of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake said Bachelet could fix their collapsed homes with a fraction of what has been invested in the new transit system since its launch.

REUTERS TB BST0055 response was supported by a few key votes from her center-left coalition, revealing deep schisms in her 20-month-old government.

''I think this has hit bottom. The political system is not working, the coalition is not working,'' said Marta Lagos, director of the Chilean branch of MORI polling firm.

The same center-left coalition has run Chile for 17 years, since the end of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

The failed Transantiago system -- which established new routes for buses -- was developed before Bachelet was elected.

But she has taken the blame for the congestion and commuting delays it caused.

Bachelet, a socialist who became Chile's first woman president in March 2006, called the vote ''regrettable.'' She has seen her popularity ratings fall to 39 per cent this year, also damaged by violent protests by subcontracted workers at state-owned miner Codelco in July.

Analysts said that although Bachelet can likely bypass Congress to get money to fix the bus system, increasing in-fighting in Congress threatens her plans to make key changes to pension, education and labor laws.

''This affects confidence in (Chilean) politics,'' said Senator Camilo Escalona, from Bachelet's own Socialist Party and a spokesperson for the coalition that backs her.

''I think the government is going to have to sharpen its negotiating skills with legislators to win their backing for the government's key projects,'' said Fabian Pressacco, a professor of political science from the Alberto Hurtado University in Santiago.

Even far from the capital, Bachelet cannot seem to shake the Transantiago fracas.

In northern Chile last week victims of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake said Bachelet could fix their collapsed homes with a fraction of what has been invested in the new transit system since its launch.

REUTERS TB BST0055

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