May 20, 2013
Red-hot Chile peppers?
While Latin America’s focus is mostly on Mexico’s July 1 presidential elections, Venezuela’s scheduled for October 7 and high noon in the United States on November 6 — where the “Latino” vote could tip the balance as to Barack Obama’s reelection and the (scant) chances of any change in Washington’s policies towards its backyard — it might well be the pre-electoral tectonic shifts of Chile which end up outlining not only the regional political map also shared by Argentina looking ahead to its own 2015 presidential elections but also the tone of the Southern Cone’s centre-left mentality.
In Chile the municipal elections of October 28 will be the starting-blocks for the presidential and Congressional races of November 17, 2013. Meanwhile neither the centre-right ruling coalition (where the UDI supplies the “right” and President Sebastián Piñera’s more moderate RN the “centre”) nor the opposition Concertación alliance (centre-left with the Christian Democrats and the Socialists as the leading parties) have defined their campaigns yet. Although both fronts are passing through a convulsive stage, the ball is still at the ruling coalition’s feet for now as it awaits the next corner.
Because even if President Piñera’s approval ratings are at all-time lows (24 percent according to Adimark pollsters), this has yet to rub off on the voting intentions for two of his most vote-pulling Cabinet members — Defence and Public Works Ministers Andrés Allamand and Laurence Golborne with 12 and 17 percent respectively according to a La Tercera survey. Nevertheless, the President has still not lowered his chequered flag to allow them to leave their portfolios and campaign openly. Nor is he under any obligation to do so — the electoral law says that they must vacate their ministries a year before the elections.
Of the two presidential hopefuls (Piñera is out of the running with no immediate reelection in Chile), Allamand is most in a hurry. The defence minister knows that the longer his colleague Golborne heads up public works, the more inaugurations and projects he can boast in his campaign platform. Card-carrying RN member Allamand also knows that the sooner he forces Golborne into the race, the sooner will the latter’s apolitical and non-partisan identity come to light (the former Cencosud executive is a “technocrat” whom Piñera brought into his dream team, first as Mines Minister at the time of the 2011 miner rescue, then Energy and now Public Works).
As for the primaries to define the next presidential ticket, the ruling centre-right coalition is tempted to jump in first. Scheduled for April, 2013, sources at the RN told the Herald that they will push for them to be brought forward to late this year or the first weeks of the next. With one sole and underhand aim — to oblige the rival Concertación coalition to play for once and for all their ace of spades, the former 2006-10 socialist president Michelle Bachelet.
The Bachelet phenomenon is still sinking in among the various spin doctors and political pundits. In a Centro de Estudios Públicos (CEP) survey last month, 51 percent spontaneously picked her when asked: “Who would you like to be president?”. What’s more — with no campaigning and far removed from the local arena (in New York where she is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women), she commands a positive image of 83 percent, followed by Golborne with 68 percent while there is a three-way tie for third place (43 percent) between Allamand, the high-profile student leader Camila Vallejo and the former presidential candidate Marco Enríquez Ominami.
Such opinion polls nostrums nevertheless have their jarring notes. Around 60 percent of respondents disapprove of the quality of the opposition to the Piñera administration, an even more jarring figure if broken down according to their political sympathies — 70 percent of those calling themselves left or centre-left do not agree with the opposition role according to the CEP survey.
That is why the Concertación lurches hazardously between two extremes. On the one hand, the desire to rest on the laurels of the certain consensus surrounding Bachelet (today all the politicians go to New York to consult that oracle). And on the other hand, the dinosaur pace of a Concertación coalition which ruled for two decades (1990-2010) and apparently is still unable to think as an opposition (while the Chilean analyst and Herald Tuesday columnist Patricio Navia considers the Piñera administration to be Chile’s 5th Concertación government).
According to the prestigious La Tercera columnist Héctor Soto, the Concertación is now under pressure from the Socialist Party and from Christian Democrat Bachelet fans to simplify the primary process in the extreme. For the last presidential elections in late 2010 an inner circle of the Concertación opted for the candidacy of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, rejecting the primaries requested by Enríquez-Ominami (who then ran as an independent, winning 20 percent of the vote). Today, says Soto, “an expanding left beyond the Concertación” criticizes those “handpicking” methods, pushing for Concertación primaries.
There is still a “joker” in the electoral pack — no less than Marco Enríquez-Ominami (MEO), who incarnates that left beyond the Concertación which resists the dictates of living mummies. He will run again, they say, either for his Progressive Party or, if convinced by the “oracle”, from within the Concertación. What is clear and has been for a while is that he is the golden boy of this side of the Andes — both the centre-right PRO and Cristina’s La Cámpora equally vie for his favours. And those who know their way around Balcarce 50 add that CFK herself prefers him. After all, she never really got on with Bachelet.