Michelle Bachelet’s landslide victory was the largest in 80 years and yet, at the same time was the lowest voter turnout since the nation of Chile returned to democracy. According to some political pundits, this suggests that Bachelet will not get a mandate to push for any type of change when she begins her second term in 2014.
A moderate advocate of socialist government, Bachelet ended her first term in 2010 with an approval rating of 84 percent in spite of the fact that she was unwilling to enact any type of major change. However, with this victory, political leftists in Chile are expected to hold Bachelet accountable to make good on her promises. Some of these include improving health care, closing the gap between the rich and the poor, and pushing a $15 billion program for the purposes of educational overhaul.
Economically, Chile is the pride of Latin America. It is the top exporter of chrome worldwide and boasts a rapidly growing economy, a stable democracy and low unemployment rates. However, in the country itself, there has been much unrest as many have believed that there should be more of the nations wealth used for reform of the educational system and income disparity.
Bachelet needs more political thrust to gain power over a slowing down economy and opposition in Congress. The November election gave her a coalition a razor thin majority in both branches of the Chilean congress. However, she’ll need more than the votes of her supporters to achieve success with some of her proposals.
Tax reform and education reform will not be hard to achieve with the current standing Bachelet will enjoy when she takes office. However, a rather large majority will be required to change the constitution and electoral system put in place during the Pinochet era.
Patricio Navia, a scholar in political science at New York University and a Chilean native says the road ahead for Bachelet could be tough as she will have to deal with expectations that will be next to impossible to meet. As an example, Bachelet said that the nation was going to continue growing at a rate of six percent when currently, it is growing at only three percent. Navio expressed doubts that Bachelet’s proposals will be able to meet those expectations.
This was Chile’s first nationwide presidential election after voter registration was made automatic. This move increased the electorate from eight million to 13.5 million. Chile has a population of close to 17 million citizens. With the change, voting became an option and voter turnout was only 41 percent in the runoff—or 5.5 million.
Many Chilean citizens have complained that Pinochet policies have kept power and wealth in relatively few hands. Under Pinochet’s leadership, land reform was ended by the selling of the country’s water supply and the preservation of the best education for the elite citizens.
With Bachelet’s election, many political experts agree that change may be forthcoming for the mostly conservative country. Up until 2004, divorce was illegal. Abortion and same sex-marriage are still forbidden. However, Congress recently passed a law against discrimination after a homosexual man was killed, and the pregnancy for a pre-teen raped by her mother’s boyfriend sparked an abortion debate nationwide.
Bachelet has been a long-time supporter of gay marriage and an advocate of abortion in the cases of there being a risk to a woman’s health or stemming from rape. In her first presidential campaign, these issues were barely mentioned. In contrast, she spoke out boldly for them during her second campaign.
Some of Bachelet’s economic proposals are causing business leaders to feel more than a little nervous. Copper has plunged since its peak a couple of years ago at a rate of 30 percent. Bachelet has said she wants to increase corporate taxes and has opposed the funding of power plants that run on coal as well as projects dealing with hydroelectricity. She had supported both projects in her first term.
With this victory, it is clear that Bachelet faces an uphill battle in Chile.
By Rick Hope