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CHILE FLAVOUR

Despite her victory in the run-off to the presidential elections in Chile, Michelle Bachelet may have two things getting in the way of undiluted joy. One, her popularity notwithstanding, matters still had to drag to a run-off. And two, she has 61 per cent of the votes, but only a minuscule percentage of Chileans had actually bothered to vote. The latter may be the result of Chileans suddenly being released of an obligation by the new rule of voluntary voting. If that is indeed the case, then perhaps the Bachelet regime should start worrying about why voting has become unattractive to the people only four decades after the end of the much-hated dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Also, does Ms Bachelet’s defeat of Evelyn Matthei, daughter of a general of Pinochet’s junta and supporter of his 1988 plebiscite, take Chile anyway nearer to the end of that ghastly episode? A substantial section of Chile’s politicians (particularly from the right-wing Unión Demócrata Independiente), which continues to swear by Pinochet’s legacy, retains popular support, having successfully re-invented itself to cater to the demands of democracy. Either this reinvention has been way too successful or Chile’s left-wing politicians have failed to stand apart from the Right and Centre-Right. The lack of voter enthusiasm definitely showed that Chile’s people are suddenly feeling that they do not need to go out and defeat or crown any particular party in order to push their cause.

There is, of course, no absence of such causes. Chile’s society and education remain firmly within the grasp of the old elite and its political system remains captive to the restrictive clauses enforced by the Pinochet regime. Ms Bachelet intends to restructure Chile’s health and education system, raise money through increased corporate taxes for that purpose and do away with the binomial election system and reform Chile’s Pinochet-era Constitution. From her overwhelming victory, there is no doubt that many believe in her capabilities. But fiscal prudence at a time the copper-trade-based Chilean economy is slowing down may slow her down. And then, with her fiscal prudence and lack-lustre reformism, Ms Bachelet may once again fail to make her government any different from the fiscally-prudent, right-wing, predecessor government. That may confirm the Chileans’ suspicions about the sameness of politics and keep them home at the time of the next elections.