Michelle Bachelet is going to be the next president of Chile, and it’s no big surprise. [FYI: The ‘let’ part of her name is fully pronounced here, L-E-T not like French. They pronounce Pinochet the same way, too.] This may explain the low voter turnout for the runoff election on Sunday between the two blonde women. Most people expected her to handily beat Evelyn Mattei, as she left her last term in office hugely popular. The election rules were recently changed to make voting voluntary; it used to be mandatory. No one has to register because they are included in the registry using their national ID numbers, and it’s mandatory to have an ID card. She has parliamentary majority and although she is theoretically from the Socialist Party, la Nueva Mayoría, or ‘New Majority’ is really a coalition of all center-left parties including the Christian Democrats, regular [my word] Democrats, Leftists and Communists. The socialist label here seems to say “I’m not right wing, but I’m not an extreme lefty either.” This country will never be socialist. The right wing coalition did damage to itself throughout this race with a lot of internal issues. It is my opinion that low voter turnout was due in part to new voluntary voting, another part due to lazy Sundays around here, as well as full expectations that she would win. Anyone speculating she doesn’t have a clear mandate is just looking to pick a fight.
The race was quite interesting to watch though, because many candidates had a wide range of ideas on offer. This is something that I find lacking in the US. Here, ALL candidates participate in the radio and televised debates if they wish to. Roxana Miranda even participated, a woman of humble means and background ran under the Partido de Igualdad [Equality Party] which wants to reform capitalism and promote workers’ rights. Would we ever see someone who is essentially anti-capitalist on the news networks of the US? There are pigs flying outside my window. Marco Enríquez-Ominami and others are for gay marriage and even adoption by LGBT couples, something I didn’t see much support for in the last election four years ago. Things are definitely changing here.
The news always makes a big deal about showing images on election day, some of which were highly entertaining. Elections are on Sundays when almost everyone has the day off. Of course, transportation on Sundays is also limited. There are people who can’t get to their polling places by car and many travel by horse, boat or even via zip line cage. People also get randomly selected to monitor and assist at the polling places. Some of them dress up in costumes. My favorite was the ‘Hombre Avestruz’ or Ostrich Man who showed up to vote.
What I am particularly interested in is what will happen with the new constitution, education and inclusive marriage. One of Bachelet’s campaign promises is to re-write it, something that many Chileans have been demanding for years as it was written while under the Pinochet dictatorship, and she plans to introduce state-funded education like Argentina and much of Europe have. Education here is extremely expensive, and not only higher education. Good schools for children are private and cost many parents from hundreds up to thousands of dollars a month. Yep, I said month. The public schools are barely funded and children who are not well-off get a total junk education. How will this deeply entrenched class system in one of the most well-off yet unfair societies in Latin America ever change if all the people get is more of the same? I found this article in Forbes wondering if the end of the Chilean economic miracle is at hand with these lefties in power. What a simplistic, one-sided piece of trash. Have they not recognized that the economy was going along swimmingly when Bachelet was president the first time? Here is a succinct summary of her record from a recent Time article:
“She presided over one of the most successful, stable economies in Latin America, passed several popular pieces of social legislation and left office with an 84% approval rate.”
The economy is very good when looking at the overall picture, but wealth is extremely concentrated. There is a lot of poverty in Chile and almost no class mobility whatsoever. If all children could get a decent education, the future will only be better for everyone whose lives they touch. Big fat duh. Forbes also forgot to mention that an important cause for the dire situation in 1973 was partially fabricated and exaggerated; one example of the “shock doctrine”. Calling the coup, dictatorship and economic so-called miracle an example of the “free” market is a fallacy. The regime change was planned. So now education, retirement and nearly everything else here have been privatized and its a making certain folks filthy, stinking rich. Many higher institutions have been losing their accreditation over the last few years, as the money paid through exorbitant school fees goes into the directors pockets. I could go on, but that’d be another article.
Cohabitation: The Chilean government has been debating the AVP for years and recently approved it in a special senate commission. Now it has to be passed by the full senate, and the right wing UDI party just asked to postpone the vote to continue discussing it. I’m not sure what the big deal is. It’s not marriage, not even civil partnership. It consists of a few things that will benefit any couple of any persuasion that is not married, and a lot of couples don’t get married here. One more weird contradiction in this supposedly Catholic country. Divorce only recently arrived, so what did people do instead? Just not get married. This couple partnership or cohabitation would recognize rights such as inheritance, health benefits and being able to apply for a mortgage together. The “couple” in question could even just be friends. It’s a lot more cost-effective here to purchase a property. Why can’t two BFFs do it together? Without the AVP, only legally married couples can apply for a mortgage using both incomes.
Inclusive marriage. Now that would be a real kick in the pants. The good kind. I could marry my fiancée and not have to worry about what to do when my residency expires. We could buy a house together! Better stop me before I get too excited. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable, but opinions have changed a great deal. The BBC reported that a majority of Chileans are still against gay marriage, but according to my sources that is not true. A recent survey put the figures at 54.9% in favor and about 40% against. I even saw a special the other night on regular TV about gay couples in Chile adopting and the legal uncertainties they face. My jaw dropped to see this on the boob tube here. Still, I think it will be either a long time or a real fight before these changes become reality.
Can Bachelet deliver on her promises; re-write the constitution, improve education, fix the pathetic pension system and pass gay marriage while keeping the economy going strong? I gotta say I’m keeping the faith.