Category Archives: Chile

Bachelet’s most tenacious second-term foe? Lofty expectations.

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Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s president between 2006 and 2010, pulled off Sunday what no other Chilean president has done since the return of democracy in the post-Pinochet era — win a second, non-consecutive term.chile

To draw a contrast to the United States, only one president managed to return to the White House after leaving it — Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms in the 1880s and the 1890s, though he’s routinely ranked among the more forgettable and inconsequential of US presidents.  Although it’s an inexact analogy (US presidents have never been barred from holding two consecutive terms the way that Chilean presidents are), Bachelet now faces the challenge of becoming one of Chile’s transformational 21st century leaders — in short, her challenge is not to become Chile’s Grover Cleveland.

Her return as president follows a four-year interregnum of government by Chile’s center-right — and in Sebastián Piñera, a president who represented the most moderate tendencies of the Chilean right, largely unsullied by association with the 17-year military regime of Augusto Pinochet.  Piñera’s term has been marked by relatively robust economic growth and sound government, even if Piñera himself hasn’t always been the most effective advocate for his own administration.  That became especially clear as Piñera seemed to lose control of the tussle between his government and student protesters throughout his term in office.

Moreover, the center-right did itself no favors in the process of nominating a candidate to succeed Piñera — the initial resignation of frontrunner Laurence Golborne last spring over private-sector scandal, the subsequent primary fight within the Chilean right between the more moderate Renovación Nacional (RN, National Renewal) and the more conservative Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI, Independent Democratic Union), the sudden withdrawal of the primary winner Pablo Longueira, and his hasty replacement with former labor minister Evelyn Matthei as the standard-bearer of the fractured center-right Coalición por el Cambio (Coalition for Change) — widely referred to as the Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile).

But even in a parallel universe where a united Alianza backed a scandal-free Golborne, Bachelet was always deemed the favorite to win the Chilean presidency.  Furthermore, though Bachelet nearly routed Matthei in the first round (46.70% to 25.03%), she won a nearly two-to-win landslide against Matthei in Sunday’s runoff (62.16% to 37.83%).  But as Bachelet prepares to return to La Moneda, she should fear that the same forces that rendered the Piñera administration so unpopular could also render her second term even more  unpopular, especially after raising such high expectations in her successful second-term presidential campaign.

Part of the problem is that her constituency today covers a wider portion of Chile’s political spectrum than it did in her first victory eight years ago.   Continue reading Bachelet’s most tenacious second-term foe? Lofty expectations.

Chilean parliamentary and presidential (first round) election results

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Chile’s general elections on Sunday went just about as much as expected. chile

Michelle Bachelet leads all over candidates by a margin of over 20%, but with just 46.68% support, she’ll narrowly miss the absolute majority that she needs to avoid a December 15 runoff.  Bachelet, who served as Chile’s president between 2006 and 2010, is the candidate of the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority) coalition, which is itself based on the broad center-left Concertación that’s won four out of the five past elections since the return of regular democracy in Chile in the late 1980s after the regime of Augusto Pinochet.

In second place, also as widely expected, is Evelyn Matthei with 25.01% — Matthei is a former senator and a former minister of labor in the administration of outgoing center-right president Sebastián Piñera, who is the candidate of the broad center-right coalition that’s comprised of Piñera’s Renovación Nacional (RN, National Renewal) and Matthei’s more conservative Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI, Independent Democratic Union).

But given how close Bachelet came to winning an outright majority, she is almost assured of victory against Matthei in the second round — so the next four weeks of campaigning will likely amount to somewhat of a victory lap for Bachelet, who hopes to become the first former Chilean president to return for a second, non-consecutive term in recent history.

It’s been a difficult year for Chilean conservatives — its center-right coalition, the Coalición por el Cambio (Coalition for Change),  widely known as the Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile), which saw its frontrunner for president, former energy minister Laurence Golborne withdraw from the race in the spring due to accusations of malfeasance stemming from his time in the private sector, and which saw its elected presidential nominee, former economy minister Pablo Longueira, withdraw promptly after winning the hard-fought nomination on account of clinical depression.

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Surprisingly far behind in third place were two relatively independent candidates.

Marco Enríquez-Ominami (popularly known as ‘MEO’), ran a stridently leftist campaign as the founder and leader of the Partido Progresista (Progressive Party), and he hoped to improve on his performance in the December 2009 first-round presidential election, when he won 20% of the vote.  Instead, he won just 10.96% of the vote, a disappointment for Enríquez-Ominami’s feisty campaign and the sign that the broad center-left electorate largely coalesced around Bachelet’s candidacy.

Perhaps even more disappointing was the performance of Franco Parisi, who won just 10.12% of the vote — an independent center-right candidate, Parisi was vying for second place in polls with Matthei a month ago before Matthei started attacking Parisi, a popular professor and economist, especially with regard to allegations that he withheld $200,000 of employee wages.

While Bachelet may have enjoyed winning the presidency outright, more important to her and the Nueva Mayoria coalition are the results of the parliamentary elections also held on Sunday — Chileans were electing all 120 members of the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of Chile’s parliament, and a little over one-half of the 38-member Senado (Senate), the upper house.

With just over 95% of the vote counted for the Chamber of Deputies, the center-left Nueva Mayoria held 65 seats, the center-right Alianza held 47 seats, with four seats still undecided, and with one seat going to the Progressive Party and three seats going to independents, leaving Bachelet and the center-left on the cusp of winning the 69 seats necessary for a four-sevenths majority in the lower house, which is necessary to enact the kind of major educational and tax reforms that Bachelet hopes to pass in the next four years, but not the two-thirds majority necessary for constitutional revisions. Under Chile’s ‘binomial’ system, however, in which two deputies are elected from each of 60 districts, it’s difficult to achieve a lopsided victory in either direction in either house of parliament.

In the Senate, of the 20 seats up for election, the Nueva Mayoria has won 12, the Alianza just six, with one independent and one still to be determined.  Given that the other 18 Senate seats divided between nine for the center-left and nine for the center-right in the previous December 2009 election, that would give Nueva Mayoria at least 21 seats in the Senate and the Alianza 15 — enough for a clear majority, but again just on the cusp of winning a four-sevenths majority (22) in the upper house as well.

As Duke University professor Ariel Dorfman wrote in The Guardian over the weekend, the two were once childhood playmates when their fathers both served in the Chilean air force — Matthei’s father supported Pinochet in the September 1973 coup against president Salvador Allende, while Bachelet’s father opposed the coup and was subsequently imprisoned, tortured and died in prison in 1974:

Fernando Matthei was a military attache at the London embassy when the coup led by Augusto Pinochet destroyed Chilean democracy. He could do nothing to help the friend with whom he used to exchange classical records and talk into the night about sports, politics and literature. But his failure to act could no longer be justified, however, when he returned to Santiago at the end of 1973 and was named director of the aviation’s War Academy – the very building in which Alberto Bachelet was to die two months later. Though several judicial reviews and trials found that then Colonel Matthei had no penal culpability in the death of General Alberto Bachelet – the cellars where his comrade-in-arms were being tormented were off limits to anyone not working as an interrogator – the guilt still haunts him. In his 2009 book, he admitted: “Prudence outweighed courage.”

Not even the most delirious novelist could have imagined a more unusual history of differing destinies. One dies because he had the courage, though perhaps not the prudence, of accepting to head the distribution and food centre of Allende’s government, a post that had ministerial status. The other lives a life of excessive prudence and no courage and is ultimately named to the ruling junta. General Matthei also served as health minister in Pinochet’s cabinet – a portfolio that Michelle Bachelet held a generation later. As for Evelyn Matthei, she was a senator and then labour minister in Piñera’s government. A study in contrasts: the socialist who became Chile’s president and the conservative who aspires to that presidency.

Bachelet and her family sought exile in Australia and East Germany, and Bachelet returned to Chile only in 1979 as a pediatrician.

Third-place candidate Enríquez-Ominami’s father, a revolutionary leftist who also opposed the coup, was also executed by the Pinochet regime, and the effect demonstrates just how much the ghosts of 1973 (and the ghosts of the Pinochet regime, which governed until 1989) haunt contemporary Chilean politics.

Continue reading Chilean parliamentary and presidential (first round) election results

Bachelet’s ambitious agenda to be determined by result of Chile’s parliamentary elections

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No matter who wins tomorrow’s presidential election in Chile — and by what margin — we will know much more about the nature of the Chilean government over the next four years from the result of the other elections that will be held.chile

Those are the parliamentary elections, in which Chileans will elect all 120 members of the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of Chile’s parliament, and half of the 38-member Senado (Senate), the upper house.

The inability of current president Sebastián Piñera to win absolute majorities in the Chilean parliament in the previous December 2009 elections constrained his legislative ability over the past four years to enact the kind of market liberalization or other reforms that Piñera might otherwise have pursued.

Likewise, though former president Michelle Bachelet is the overwhelming favorite to return to La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, the extent to which her administration will be able to enact campaign promises depends in large part on her ability to win a parliamentary majority for the broad left coalition that she leads, Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), which is essentially a rebranding of the broad center-left coalition of Chilean parties, the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (Concert of Parties for Democracy) — with the recent addition of the Partido Comunista (Community Party) and a couple of other minor parties.

Though it seems likely that Bachelet’s coalition will win a majority in both houses, no one knows how large their margin will be — and, of course, with the widening of the previous Concertación to include the Communists and other far-left groups, maintaining unity within Bachelet’s coalition will be even harder in the years ahead.  That’s especially true in light of the lofty platform that Bachelet has outlined during her campaign —  Bachelet hopes to achieve major tax reform (an increase in the corporate tax rate from 20% to 25% and a cut in the maximum income tax rate from 40% to 35%), education reform (free access to university within the next six years) and, most ambitiously, a new Chilean constitution.  Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in both houses, an outcome that’s extremely unlikely, and even large-scale reforms, such as the kind Bachelet hopes to enact for Chilean education, require a four-sevenths majority.

That, in turn, is due to Chile’s electoral system, which is designed to avoid large majorities in either direction.  In respect of the Chamber of Deputies, Chileans vote in 60 constituencies that elect two members each — Chile’s unique binomial system that Pinochet’s advisers stitched into Chile’s current constitution before ceding power to civilian leadership in 1989.  While each coalition can run two candidate in each district, the typical result is that each major coalition each wins one seat in each constituency — one coalition will only be awarded both seats if it defeats the second coalition by a two-to-one margin.  A similar system exists for the Senate — Chileans elect two senators in each of 19 senatorial districts.

Moreover, Bachelet faces a new challenge from the Partido Progresista (Progressive Party of Chile), the party created two years ago by Marco  Enríquez-Ominami, who won about 20% as an independent candidate in the previous 2009 presidential election and who is running again in this weekend’s presidential election.  Although no one predicts that the Progressive Party is likely to steal many seats in the parliamentary vote, even one or two seats in each chamber could significantly alter Bachelet’s ability to govern.  Continue reading Bachelet’s ambitious agenda to be determined by result of Chile’s parliamentary elections

Can Bachelet win a first-round victory in Chile’s presidential election?

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Michelle Bachelet is almost certain to set a new precedent in post-Pinochet Chilean politics when she wins a second (non-consecutive) term as president, returning to the office she held between 2006 and 2010. chile

But it’s an open question as to whether Bachelet (pictured above) will do so with a first-round victory — meaning that Bachelet will need to win at least 50% of the vote on Sunday, November 17 in order to avoid a runoff later in December.

Bachelet’s victory would return the broad center-left Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (Concert of Parties for Democracy) to La Moneda, Chile’s presidential palace after the center-right presidency of businessman Sebastián Piñera, the first non-Concertación president in Chile’s post-Pinochet era, which began with the October 1988 referendum in which Chilean voters opposed extending the reign of Augusto Pinochet’s  on

Some polls show Bachelet tantalizingly close to achieving enough support for a first-round victory.  An Opina Research poll published by El Comercio earlier this week shows Bachelet with 46%, to just 22% for Evelyn Matthei, the candidate of Chile’s center-right coalition, the Coalición por el Cambio (Coalition for Change), but widely known as the Alianza por Chile (Alliance for Chile).  A Centro de Estudios Públicos poll from last week shows Bachelet with 47% and Matthei with just 14%.

But an even more recent IPSOS survey conducted between October 19 and November 5 shows that Bachelet is very likely to head to a runoff — even after stripping out undecided voters, Bachelet won just 35% and Matthei won 22%.

Bachelet’s problem is that Matthei doesn’t represent her sole competition.  Two third-party candidates routinely poll between 10% and 15% in surveys, and they could shake up Sunday’s race if Bachelet’s supporters remain complacent and center-right voters remain unenthusiastic about Matthei.

The first is Marco Enríquez-Ominami (popularly known as ‘MEO’), who burst onto the Chilean political scene in 2009 when he left the Partido Socialista de Chile (PS, Socialist Party of Chile) to run for president as an independent.  MEO ultimately won 20% of the vote, falling behind both Piñera and the runner-up, former president Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle.  Enríquez-Ominami founded the Partido Progresista (Progressive Party) in 2010, and he’s running again for president on a stridently leftist platform that openly embraces the communist legacy of former Chilean president Salvador Allende, who died in the 1973 coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power.  The events of both the Allende presidency and the Pinochet regime continue to loom heavily over Chilean politics.

But another independent candidate has stolen some thunder from both MEO and Matthei.  Franco Parisi, a popular economist and business professor, and a a former councillor of Chile’s copper commission between 2010 and 2012, is running as a centrist candidate in the presidential elections.  Matthei has launched a negative onslaught against Parisi over the past few weeks, accusing him of owing $200,000 in back wages to employees, and though her negative attacks have reversed some of Parisi’s gains, he’s still polling in the mid-teens.

A third candidate, Marcel Claude, a former official in Chile’s central bank and an environmental activist, is running as an independent with the endorsement of Chile’s small Humanist Party.

In the most recent IPSOS poll, 15% of voters supported Parisi, 12% supported Enríquez-Ominami, 7% supported Claude and 5% supported other small candidates — taken together, that means that 39% of Chileans support a third candidate in 2013, even more than support Bachelet.  Moreover, depressed turnout for Mathei’s candidacy could conceivably launch either Parisi or Enríquez-Ominami into a runoff with Bachelet — it would be the first such presidential runoff that didn’t feature a race between the mainstream center-left Concertación and the mainstream center-right AlianzaContinue reading Can Bachelet win a first-round victory in Chile’s presidential election?

Does the Chilean right have any chance in November against Bachelet?

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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.chile

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