When Michelle Bachelet returns to the presidential palace of La Moneda, she will do so in conditions less favorable than had been expected. In the first round of voting she failed to secure the number of votes necessary to be immediately declared president-elect of Chile, though her emphatic victory over the incumbent government’s candidate, Evelyn Matthei — whose 25-percent share of the vote was much better than the forecasts — portends an easy win for her at the second round of voting, which will take place on December 15.
Nor has the Socialist ex-president’s great popularity rubbed off on the parliamentary representation of her coalition. As we await the final results, it appears that her heterogeneous center-left alliance — whose components range from the Communist Party on the left to the Christian Democrats on the moderate right — will have a majority in both chambers of the Chilean Parliament, but not a majority sufficient to impose the far-reaching reforms that Bachelet is proposing.
Despite the good economic results from Sebastián Piñera’s presidency — sustained growth, low unemployment, increased purchasing power and contained inflation — the Chilean right has been unable to consolidate a more egalitarian society. Popular malaise has surfaced on the streets too frequently and too intensely in recent years, spearheaded mainly by students.
The climate of discontent has translated into an electoral campaign dominated by promises of great social and political reforms. Bachelet has made these promises the watchword of a turn to the left, resting on three pillars: a large stride in the direction of free universal education; fiscal reform with higher taxes — especially corporate taxes — to pay for this educational program; and the promotion of a new Constitution to substitute the one established by General Pinochet in 1980, which, in spite of numerous subsequent changes, still bears the stigma of its dictatorial origin.
This ambitious program, whose prospects have been downscaled by Sunday’s electoral results, will now depend on the consensus that the future president can put together with other political forces, once she has taken office in March. The Chilean institutional structure demands progressively qualified majorities for important reforms, and parliamentary majorities of this sort will presumably prove all the more elusive in the context of an economy that is beginning to cool.
In the past, Michele Bachelet has often shown a healthy freedom from dogmatism. Chile will benefit from her presidency, if she maintains her declared preference for agreement instead of confrontation.