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Chile: Bachelet is back


Chile: Bachelet is back


Re-elected with 62 percent of Sunday’s vote, Michelle Bachelet is back as Chilean president after a break of four years. She owes her victory to her promises of social justice.

“I am proud to be your president-elect today. I am proud of the country we’ve built but I am even more proud of the country we will build together,” Bachelet said on Sunday night.

If Chile can achieve strong growth – it should be between 4 and 5 percent next year. It’s an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country where the gap between rich and poor is more pronounced.

Michelle Bachelet promised to act quickly on three points:

Firstly, she will introduce free education, something a 2011 student revolt demanded. At the moment, only the rich can afford to prepare for entrance exams at large public universities.

Secondly, to finance her education reform, Bachelet wants to involve business. The corporation tax is expected to rise from 20 percent to 25 percent and reinvesting earnings will be required.

Finally, Michelle Bachelet wants to reform the constitution inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship to introduce greater representation in the political system.

However many promises leave more than half of Chileans skeptical, judging by the high abstention rate: no less than 58 percent didn’t vote in the second round of presidential elections.

Students have good memories of Michelle Bachelet. They will gather en mass in Santiago on 15 March, four days after her inauguration.

Interview with Michelle Bachelet

Beatriz Beiras, euronews:
To discuss Michelle Bachelet’s electoral victory, we’re joined from Chile by Marta Lagos, political analyst and founder director of Latinobarómetro Corporation.

When we spoke about the first round of elections on 17 November, you said that the biggest problem for the second round would be people abstaining. Is this what happened?

Marta Lagos:
Yes, 58 percent of Chileans did not vote. 7.8 million out of a possible 13.5 million voted yesterday. It’s the first time in Chilean history that fewer people voted in a presidential election than in local ones. That’s a big failure in the election policy. We changed the law so voting became voluntary rather than mandatory. This was supposed to mobilise citizens, but it’s had the opposite effect.

Beatriz Beiras, euronews:
And how do you interpret this political disaffection amongst Chileans? Isn’t it a bit surprising?

Marta Lagos:
No, I’m not surprised. First, there’s a ‘crisis of representation’ because of the binomial system which requires coalitions be formed. Chileans have had enough of these coalitions, and yesterday, they said, we don’t want them. We want elections with competitive political parties who say what they’ve got to say without having to consider another party in the same coalition.

There is nothing to differentiate the parties. The voters are not stupid. Yesterday they showed what they think of the binomial system. And voluntary voting has proved that it can not save the system. I think yesterday’s rejection is not a rejection of politics in general, but a rejection of the two coalitions and how politics is conducted.

Beatriz Beiras, euronews:
It is said that Chile has a sound and powerful economy, but one of its weak points is inequality. One of these inequalities is education. Why?

Marta Lagos:
Chile has 20,000 dollars per capita income, but, as they say here, the ‘per capita’ person does not exist. And when we go to the south of the country, for example on the island of Chiloé, the per capita income is perhaps 7,000 dollars.

It’s a big country and when we say that Chile is a success, it only considers 35 percent of the population. The other 65 percent do not have 20-thousand dollars per capita income. They can see that a minority has a very high income. That’s Chile’s problem and now is the time to act and reduce these inequalities.

Beatriz Beiras, euronews:
To conclude, Marta, what do you think Michelle Bachelet’s presidency will look like this time?

Marta Lagos:
I believe that this presidency will be very different to the previous one. The last time she was weak when she came to power, because she did not feel supported by the parties. The Chilean political leaders looked down on her. They said she was incompetent. Michele Bachelet danced and smiled too much during her election campaign. She had a lot of problems with the parties.

Now the situation is reversed. Before she needed the parties, now the parties need her. And if you look at what happened yesterday, in her speech, she didn’t talk about parties. The message she wanted to send is: “gentlemen, I am here, it is I who will call you, you, you…there’s no room for you at the podium. This success is mine.” This is why I say that the situation is reversed. She goes into the government in a strong position, even in her own coalition, something that did not happen in the previous government.

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