Valdosta Daily Times

December 17, 2013

Bachelet has big win in Chile presidential vote

The Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile — President-elect Michelle Bachelet vowed on Monday to initiate profound social changes in Chile, a day after winning the seat with the biggest victory in eight decades.

Analysts, however, noted that the 41 percent voter turnout was the lowest since Chile’s return to democracy, suggesting she’ll need to move deliberately, not radically, when she begins her second turn in office next year.

Bachelet will be sworn in March 11, giving outgoing President Sebastian Pinera nearly three more months in office. They shared an hourlong breakfast at Bachelet’s home Monday to discuss the transition.

“We’re going to do in the transition to prepare all steps so that when we get to March we can immediately start governing with all the energy, dynamism and strength that is needed to fulfill the mandate handed us by the people,” Bachelet said at a news conference.

Bachelet also met with congressional party leaders who will be key to approving her $15 billion program to overhaul education, improve health care and reduce the vast gap between rich and poor.

The moderate socialist ended her 2006-10 presidency with an 84 percent approval rating despite failing to achieve any major changes. This time, many vow to take over the streets again if politicians don’t follow through.

Chile is the world’s top copper exporter, and its fast-growing economy, low unemployment and inflation are the envy of Latin America. But millions of Chileans who have protested in recent years say more of the copper wealth should be used to reduce income inequality and fix public schools.

Bachelet’s rival, Evelyn Matthei, got just 37 percent of the vote, the center-right’s worst performance in two decades. Still, Jovino Novoa, vice president of the right-wing Democratic Independent Union, asserted Monday that Bachelet “doesn’t have the representation nor the mandate for extreme positions.”

The center-right Renovation National’s president, Carlos Larrain, was more accepting, saying: “Michelle Bachelet is the president of Chile and she’s been elected with a very solid majority.”

Bachelet’s center-left New Majority coalition, which now includes Communist Party members, enjoys a majority in both houses need to achieve some of her tax and education reforms.

But changing the Pinochet-era electoral system and constitution require super-majorities.

“She’ll achieve some things: The tax reform is in her pocket. ... I think student leaders who have been elected to Congress will sign off on educational reform.

“Bachelet’s expectations are high, but things will be achieved,” said Kenneth Bunker, a Chilean political scientist.

Patricio Navia, a Chilean political scientist at New York University, sees a tough road for Bachelet, who ran the U.N.’s women’s agency after leaving the presidency.