Bachelet and Chile, Three Months Later
The president was able to defuse a crisis, but more difficult battles remain to be fought.
(Angus Reid Global Scan) Gabriela Perdomo – The first female president in Chilean history claims to have delivered on the goals that she endeavoured to reach on the first 100 days of her tenure.
(Angus Reid Global Scan) Gabriela Perdomo – The first female president in Chilean history claims to have delivered on the goals that she endeavoured to reach on the first 100 days of her tenure. Michelle Bachelet will probably have a positive mandate, but many challenges—some of which are already starting to surface—loom ahead.
When Bachelet was sworn in on Mar. 11, she set a deadline of 100 days to come through on 36 specific measures that she deemed necessary for the future of the South American country. Today, this period comes to an end. Many of her promises have been fulfilled, others are still pending, and a few ones are in the hands of the opposition.
Among other things, the president created the ministries of the Environment and Public Safety, increased the number of scholarships in kindergartens and universities, fostered new employment programs for the poorest sectors, and raised pensions and improved health coverage for senior citizens. According to the government, 18 of the 36 measures have already become bills that are being analyzed by Congress.
Bachelet can count on the support of the four organizations that form the governing Agreement of Parties for Democracy (CPD): Her Socialist Party (PS), the Christian-Democratic Party of Chile (PCD), the Party for Democracy (PD) and the Radical Social-Democratic Party (PRSD). She also maintains a high level of public support among Chileans, although her numbers were affected by the massive student protests that took place last month. In what was considered as the first big test of Bachelet’s administration, more than 800,000 high school students took to the streets, complaining about the poor quality of public education all over the country. A poll published in La Tercera showed an 11-point drop in Bachelet’s approval rating after the strike that lingered on for almost a full month.
In the end, Bachelet left the crisis behind by calling for a special assembly that will study how the demands of the students can be met. The test was tough, but more difficulties lie ahead. If Bachelet had managed to coexist in harmony with the opposition, Chile’s two rightist parties—National Renewal (NR) and the Independent Democratic Union (UDI)—have announced their opposition to one of the reforms that Bachelet had promised.
The point of discord is the revocation of the Binominal Electoral System, a constitutional clause that outlaws the participation of minorities in Congress, and a legacy of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The system guarantees that stronger political parties—or successful coalitions, such as the one currently in government—will have a larger presence in the legislative branch. For Bachelet, constitutional reform is required to abolish this prerogative, and make Chile’s political system more open and plural. This task is not only one of Bachelet’s campaign promises, but also an important piece of legislation for other allies, such as the Communist Party of Chile (PCC).
The struggle with the opposition also promises to be tense in the area of the military. A few days ago, defence minister Vivianne Blanlot announced that the government will seek to review a law that allows the armed forces to retain 10 per cent of the royalties generated from the sale of copper by state-owned Codelco. This rule, also approved during the dictatorship, allows the military to remain secretive about how these funds are used.
This year alone, the Chilean military stands to gain $1.2 billion U.S. from copper royalties. Blanlot has said that, at a time when the metals market is thriving, the funds that are allocated to the armed forces would be better spent “in other social projects.” Neither the military nor the rightist parties agree with this government proposal. The battles that Bachelet will face over the next few months of her administration will bring her face to face with the remnants of the Pinochet era.