Reuters International

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet delivers the annual State of the Nation address at the national congress building in Valparaiso city, Chile, May 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

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By Rosalba O'Brien

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The approval ratings of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's government plunged to just 15 percent in a poll published on Friday, the lowest of any leader since the country's 1990 return to democracy.

Centre Bachelet, who ruled in 2006-2010 and then returned for another four years in 2014, enjoyed sky-high ratings after her first term, and promised more radical policies to tackle inequality and poor education in her second term.

But her reputation is in tatters and her reform programme is stalling after a series of blows. A fall in the copper price has hit government income, and a series of high-profile scandals involving corrupt or dubious practices by politicians across the spectrum has destroyed trust.

Some 50 percent of Chileans think that "almost all" politicians are involved in corruption, according to the CEP national opinion survey, up from 14 percent 10 years ago. Chile has traditionally been a country with relatively low levels of corruption and little tolerance for it.

Bachelet secured tax reform in the first year that has helped pay for changes to education, and tweaked the electoral system, but other aspects of her pledged reform drive that would have been ambitious at the best of times have struggled.

Pensions reform, initially shunted to the side, is now being tackled after protests in recent weeks put it back on the agenda.

Labour reform was gutted by a court after right-wing opposition and, like the recently revamped tax reform, has caused confusion regarding its implementation.

Changes to the constitution, seen as a low priority in the poll, won't happen until the next government.

And even her flagship education reform is considered lacking by an active student movement. It has sparked protests that often turn violent and college sit-ins, to the disapproval of many Chileans.

Some 59 percent think Bachelet has governed worse than expected, and only 3 percent think she has done better, the poll showed.

However, there is little comfort for the opposition, which has also had consistently low approval ratings.

One of the likely candidates to run in 2017 will be Bachelet's centre predecessor, Sebastian Pinera - but only 14 percent of Chileans said they would like him to be the next president in the CEP poll. Around 62 percent did not express a preference.

The CEP survey interviewed 1,416 people between July 9 and Aug. 7, and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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