Chile Political Players
Michele Bachelet: The former president won another four-year term in the top office at a run-off election held in December 2013, and took office in March 2014. Her campaign platform included promises to address wealth inequality, specifically by establishing a basis for all Chileans to receive a free university education and labor reforms aimed at bolstering the bargaining power of unions. Other key measures include tax increases on business and the wealthy to finance the education reforms, and political reforms aimed at eliminating some undemocratic elements of the constitution, which was drafted by the military government headed by Augusto Pinochet. She has already made substantial headway, but her popularity has weakened amid a deceleration of economic growth, pointing to challenges as she attempts to muster the legislative super-majorities required to deliver fully on her campaign promises. In response to warnings from her critics that the tax and labor measures will deter investment, Bachelet has offered assurances to investors that she has no surprises in store. The appointment of her trusted adviser, Alberto Arenas, as finance minister suggests that she intends to pursue a liberal policy course on economic matters. With growth rates forecast to slow significantly compared to the recent historical trend, the government has proposed a modest loosening of fiscal policy, but the president may face pressure from within her coalition to adopt a more populist stance, and failure to accede to the wishes of her more left-leaning allies could jeopardize the unity of the governing coalition.
New Majority: The governing alliance is an expanded coalition of center-left parties that is built around the core of the Concertation of Parties for Democracy (CPD), which held power continuously for two decades after the restoration of democratic governance before losing the presidency in 2009. The new members—the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), the Broad Social Movement (MAS), and the Citizen Left (IC)—are all positioned to the left of Bachelet’s Socialist Party and the Christian Democrats, the two largest parties in the governing bloc, and while they are numerically small, in combination they could pose problems for President Bachelet if they join together to increase their influence over government policy.
Alliance: The coalition of the center-right National Renewal (RN) and the conservative Independent Democratic Union (UDI) ended the 20-year reign of its center-left rivals at the 2009 elections. Despite a history of intra-alliance tensions, the unity of the partnership remained strong, even as President Sebastian Piñera’s approval rating plummeted over the course of his four-year term. The bloc’s poor showing at municipal elections held in October 2012 foreshadowed the Alliance’s defeat at national elections held in late 2013. In addition to losing the presidency, the coalition’s seat total in the lower house of Congress fell to 49 (a net loss of 10 seats), and it retained its minority of 16 seats in the 38-member Senate. The Bachelet administration’s dependence of the backing of opposition lawmakers to secure passage of key elements of its agenda could provide the Alliance parties with a basis for continued political influence despite its defeat, but it could also prove to be the undoing of the coalition, the risk of which has increased following the approval of changes to the electoral system that hold the potential to trigger the formation of a new centrist coalition of the Christian Democrats and the RN.
Christian Democratic Party: Historically the largest party in the center-left bloc, the PDC retained that status at the November 2013 elections by winning 21 seats in the lower legislative house (a net gain of two seats), but the party suffered a net loss of three seats in the Senate. A broad, multiclass party, the PDC has largely abandoned its anti-capitalist roots, and generally favors business-friendly reforms, a stance that frequently places the party at odds with its coalition partners. The Christian Democrats would not be a bad fit as a legislative ally of the RN, but such a pairing would only be feasible in the event that the RN breaks its ties to the UDI.
Party for Democracy: The PPD has historically worked in close cooperation with the Socialists within the center-left coalition, but ties between the two parties have weakened in recent years as leaders of the PPD have sought to reclaim the party’s leftist roots. The PPD contested the 2012 municipal elections in a coalition that included the Radical Social Democratic Party (PRSD) and the PCCh, while the Christian Democrats and the Socialists ran a separate slate of candidates. PPD leader Jaime Quintana applied pressure his coalition partners in the national government to include overtly leftist planks in its 2013 campaign platform, but the PPD ultimately contested the 2013 elections under the NM umbrella.
Socialist Party: Within the center-left coalition, the Socialists have historically maintained a close relationship with the PPD and competed for dominance within the center-left bloc with the Christian Democrats. However, a realignment of partnerships has more recently taken place, as the Socialists and the Christian Democrats teamed up to contest the October 2012 municipal elections, while the PPD ran a separate slate of candidates in a coalition that included the PRSD and the PCCh. The PS has made clear its commitment to ensuring the unity of the NM, and the bloc’s survival beyond the current term may hinge on the success of the PS in bridging the differences between the Christian Democrats and the alliance’s more left-leaning parties.
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