By Alexandra Ulmer
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Embattled Chilean president Sebastian Pinera's approval rating bounced from a record low to 33 percent in May, a poll showed on Monday, boosted by a solid economy and a breather in social protests, though some see a brief respite unlikely to affect governance.
While Chile's economy grew 6 percent last year, many in the world top copper producer say they distrust conservative billionaire Pinera, lack opportunities to advance in a stratified society and have not gained from a copper-led boom.
Pinera's ratings recovered from an all-time low of 26 percent in April, propelled by news the economy expanded 5.6 percent in the first quarter, on lower fuel prices and his plea during a speech on May 21 that Chileans 'forgive' mistakes, according to pollster Adimark.
But analysts warn the uptick may be short-lived and is unlikely to ease the remaining two years of the Pinera administration, rated the most unpopular government since the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990.
"It's hard to say this is a trend that will continue," said Guillermo Holzmann, political science professor at the Universidad de Valparaiso. "His legislative agenda will only become more complicated to approve as municipal elections grow closer."
Pinera is hoping to push through a tax reform bill before key local elections in October, which are seen as a litmus test for the likely hotly contested 2013 presidential elections.
However, several of Pinera's key ministers remain popular and are seen as strong candidates for the right wing in the presidential race, which is already gearing up.
"Despite the rejection of president Pinera, his ministers have fairly positive approval ratings so the bloc will be competitive in the 2013 elections," said Patricio Navia, professor at the Universidad Diego Portales and New York University. "They have good chances in 2013... even against Bachelet."
The fractured left-wing coalition, which Pinera ousted from a 20-year rule, is hoping popular former president Michelle Bachelet will try to stage a comeback.
Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne, Defense Minister Andres Allamand and Economy and Tourism Minister Pablo Longueira are seen as the right-wing bloc's most likely candidates.
"This rebound opens a space of opportunity to better manage latent social conflicts," Holzmann said.
Student-led marches for better, free education battered Pinera and shook Chile's image as Latin America's model economy in 2011. Demands in the country's regions for more benefits, including in the mineral-rich north, are seen dominating this year's protest agenda.
The economy of Chile, the world's No. 1 copper producer, should grow by 4.0 percent or more this year despite financial turbulence in Europe, and the government is ready to activate an economic contingency plan if liquidity is squeezed, President Sebastian Pinera told Reuters on Friday.
(Writing and reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Simon Gardner and M.D. Golan)
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