Earlier this year, before anyone had jumped into the Chilean presidential race, you could easily have thought that the inevitable candidacy of popular former center-left president Michelle Bachelet was a kind of dress rehearsal for Hillary Clinton’s potential 2016 U.S. presidential race.
After four years away from La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace, and fresh off a stint with the United Nations as the head of the newly created UN Women group, Bachelet was not only the overwhelming favorite to win the presidential nomination of the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (Concert of Parties for Democracy), the coalition of Chile’s center-left parties, but to win the November 17 election outright, perhaps with enough support to win an absolute majority and avoid a presidential runoff for the first time in two decades.
True to form, Bachelet returned to great fanfare in March, declared her candidacy for president and won the Concertación primary with over 75% of the vote, putting her on track to accomplish what no other former president has done in the post-Pinochet era — return for a second term at La Moneda. While Chilean presidents are prohibited from running for reelection, they are not prohibited from running for a second, non-consecutive term.
But the path has only smoothed for Bachelet as the Chilean right has lurched from one crisis to the next, settling on its third-choice candidate for president, Evelyn Matthei (pictured above) late last month.
Her hasty selection ensures that the next president of Chile will almost certainly be a woman, but it also establishes a new dynamic in the race.
Matthei and Bachelet were once childhood playmates when their fathers served together in Chile’s air force. Matthei’s father, however, supported Augusto Pinochet after the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende. Bachelet’s father, a general who opposed the coup led by then-general Pinochet, was later imprisoned and tortured by the Pinochet regime until he died in 1974 imprisoned. Bachelet and her mother emigrated to Australia and East Germany, though Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979 to pursue a career as a pediatrician.
Matthei is not incredibly conservative on social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and she has a reputation as an outspoken, independent, and sometimes profane voice in Chilean politics. Given that she’s more personable than the candidate she replaces, Pablo Longueira, a former senator and minister of economy in Piñera’s administration, she could well turn out to be a better standard-bearer for what was always going to be an uphill fight. It also helps that she’s not burdened with having directly supported Pinochet in the 1980s, tedious baggage that Longueira would have carried with him into the election. Pinochet’s toxic legacy is one reason that Piñera has been only the first right-wing president Chilean president since the Pinochet left office in 1990. Piñera himself has become increasingly unpopular in office, though he’s bounced back from a 2012 nadir — the latest July Adimark survey gives him a 37% approval rating (with 53% disapproval).
Longueira abruptly withdrew from the race in late July after disclosing that he was suffering from severe depression. Continue reading Does the Chilean right have any chance in November against Bachelet?