Towards Chile’s election run-off



Chile was once the most politicised country in Latin America, with the highest level of political participation on the continent.

This culture of political participation failed to hold up against the 17-year dictatorship of General Pinochet, 20 years of moderate government by the Socialist-Christian Democrat alliance and a district electoral system that distributes seats between the two major blocs to the exclusion of other forces.

The student uprising, which began in 2011, led the traditional parties to contemplate the idea of electoral reform, but interest waned as the protests died down.

In the end, all they did was to introduce automatic voter registration for young people, which changes nothing, as there is no greater interest.

To make matters worse, voting was made voluntary, which only served to boost the level of abstention.

The abstention rate of over 50 per cent was the key factor in Bachelet’s failure to secure a victory in the first round of elections held on 18 November, 2013.

In the second round, on 15 December, we will know what share of the votes she has and what the level of abstention is.

Anyone looking at Chile’s presidential candidate list would never think that Pinochet’s military coup happened 40 years ago and his regime came to an end 23 years ago.

Michelle Bachelet is the daughter of an army general who served as a government minister under President Salvador Allende.

He died of a heart attack in prison after being tortured for six months. Michelle was in prison with him.

Evelyn Mattei, the right-wing candidate supported by the neo-Pinochetist Sebastián Piñera, is the daughter of an army man, who was a member of Pinochet’s military junta.

Marco Antonio Enríquez, the son of Miguel Enríquez, the main leader of the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left), was also a candidate, although now running on a moderate platform.


A problematic inheritance

Chile has seen 17 years of dictatorship since the coup, followed by 20 years of Socialist-Christian Democrat governments and four years of right-wing government.

And yet, Bachelet’s platform still reflects the problems inherited from the dictatorship.

She is considering the idea of a constituent assembly, because Chile is still living with the constitution imposed by Pinochet during the state of siege.

Some reforms have been made, but such a large majority of votes are needed in parliament that agreements are always required between the two blocs to adopt important laws.

Another key element of her programme is the promise to raise taxes on the rich to strengthen social policies.

Chile, one of the least unequal countries on the continent prior to the Pinochet regime, has become one of the most unequal. Bachelet wants to tackle this by raising greater tax revenues.

The third issue is also related to the despicable legacy left by Pinochet and hitherto left intact: the privatisation of Chile’s universities, a factor in the student uprising that undermined the legitimacy of Sebastián Piñera.

Bachelet has presented a five-year plan to restore public higher education, which no longer features in the public budget.

Bachelet is returning to office under conditions different to those present when she first became president. Her last year in government was the first year of the global crisis of capitalism.

Back then, she took measures to protect the most vulnerable, like the elderly, abandoned to their fate following the privatisation of health care, another element of Pinochet’s legacy that subsequent governments have failed to reverse.

The capacity to respond to the recessionary pressures brought about by the crisis of capitalism has since been strengthened for governments giving preference to regional integration processes.

The same is not true of those, like the Chilean government, that signed free trade agreements with the United States.

Bachelet has already expressed her desire to lower Chile’s profile in the Pacific Alliance and strengthen its relations with the Mercosur countries.


An unedited version of this article was originally published on Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI).