While Michele Bachelet is all but certain to win a second, nonconsecutive term over Evelyn Matthei in Chile’s Nov. 17 presidential election, the long-term implications of Bachelet’s victory are still to be written.
The election will be a watershed in Chile’s 23-year-old democracy, and not just because it will be the country’s first presidential election held without mandatory voting. A realignment of political forces and the emergence of a new generation of young politicians have pushed a new reform agenda, which Bachelet has tried to capture in a series of constitutional and tax reform proposals. The shifts are certain to shake up Chile’s traditionally staid post-Pinochet democracy.
The Socialist Bachelet ended her previous term in 2010 on a high note, buoyed by high rates of economic growth. This was fueled in no small part by the boom in world prices of copper, the country’s major export, but also Bachelet’s capable and responsible economic team. Among other things, and unlike many neighbors, the Bachelet administration avoided the temptation of profligacy and parked the country’s resource-based windfall in a sovereign wealth fund.
That fund came in handy for her and for her successor, outgoing President Sebastian Pinera, when global recession hit. For Pinera, however, the cushion left over from the economic boom has not been sufficient to overcome public frustration over the lack of social mobility in Chile. Persistent public protests, including student demonstrations that first broke out in 2011, have lasted through his term. And despite his private sector credentials, Pinera has also taken heat from the business community for refusing to soften a one-time tax on the extractive industry following the 2010 earthquake and a number of decisions on licensing and regulations interpreted to be anti-business....