Chilean communist party may be power broker in January 15 run-off election

Chile’s Socialist Party candidate, Michelle Bachelet, soundly defeated her right wing opponents in the December 11 presidential vote but failed to obtain the 50% to become president. Chilean law requires a candidate receive at least 50% of the vote to obtain the presidency. The breakdown was Bachelet 45.95%, Sebastian Pinera of the National Renovation party 25.41%, Joaquin Lavin of the Independent Democratic Union party 23.22%, and Tomas Hirsch of the Humanist party and part of a coalition with Chile’s Communist party 5.40%, Most of Hirsch’s vote coming from the Communist Party.

After the initial presidential vote the two right wing candidates quickly formed a coalition against the Socialist parties Dr Michelle Bachelet. With the combined vote block of the two right wing candidates Bachelet’s lead is greatly reduced. With the likely support of the Chilean Communist party she will retain a narrow lead. Hirsch has split from his alliance with the CP and declared his independence, no longer a factor in the race. With many on the Right being Pinochet loyalists and Bachelet’s solid link with the Left the upcoming run off vote will indicate were Chile is at in Latin America’s current trend toward the Left. Chile’s outgoing Socialist president Lagos’s 70% approval rating may be an indicator. The backgrounds of the two candidates differ widely.

Dr. Bachelet endured numerous personal tragedies in the years of Pinochet’s coup. Her father, Alberto Bachelet, an air force general loyal to president Salvador Allende, was tortured to death in 1974 by DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. In 1975 both then 23-year-old medical student, Michelle Bachelet, and her mother, Angela Jeria, were kidnapped from their home by a gang of DINA men. Both were tortured and deprived of food and water. Because of intervention by some top military officials, the two women escaped execution and were instead exiled to Australia Under the junta. Many women and girls were raped, tortured, and executed. Most of the perpetrators remain unpunished. Bachelet and her mother spent almost 5 years in Australia, then she returned to Chile to do clandestine human rights work. She also became a medical doctor, treating victims of rape and torture committed by the U.S. supported junta. Most of the victims were members of Chile’s Socialist and Communist parties.

Democracy was restored in Chile in 1988. As a politically active outspoken critic of the U.S. supported fascist dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, Bachelet became president Ricardo Lagos’s choice to head the national ministry of health. She served in this capacity from March of 2000 then in a stunning move, President Lagos appointed her defense minister in 2002. As a former victim of military crimes, this move signaled a complete overhaul of Chile’s military establishment. While she endorsed efforts to prosecute officers for their crimes against the civilian population, Bachelet obtained and continues to have the respect of the majority of the military and their families. There were over 3,000 murdered by the junta during the Pinochet years, a national wound that has not yet healed. "There was a group of Pinochet supporters who thought when the wives of the disappeared died off, the problem will die with it," Bachelet said, "But their children and grandchildren have taken up the flag."

Sebastian Pinera, a PhD in economics and a successful businessman, has strong ties to the media and is said to be a billionaire. He has had an ongoing affiliation with the Chilean Right.

Despite the harsh realities of the past, the current president Ricardo Lagos as well as his likely successor, Dr. Bachelet, have their vision set firmly on the future, dealing with the current complexities of the economy, social issues, and the environment.

Bachelet will have to take a closer look at The CP’s three platform positions, greater democratization to fully break away from the rights undue influence on Chile’s political system. A reconsideration of Chile’s privatized healthcare system and better pension fund system. Time will tell.