Chile’s Presidential Candidate Bachelet Expands Leftist Coalition

The socialist leader increases her chances of regaining the presidency with the communists’ backing.

Presidents Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Álvaro Colom of Guatemala wave at Mundo Maya International Airport, Flores, February 20, 2010
Presidents Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Álvaro Colom of Guatemala wave at Mundo Maya International Airport, Flores, February 20, 2010 (Gobierno de Guatemala/Paulo Raquec)

Chile’s socialist leader Michelle Bachelet increased her chances of regaining the presidency in November’s election on Tuesday when the communists announced that they would back her candidacy.

Even if the far left only won 6 percent of the votes in the last election, its support could be critical for Bachelet in a runoff against the right-wing candidate. But it might also scare off centrist voters who see no reason for a lurch to the left when the country has done well under liberal-conservative leadership.

Bachelet draw the communists’ support by echoing their demand that private profit from education, which she already banned from universities, should be eliminated altogether.

“They have decided to support a collective project that seeks to advance toward a more inclusive and fair country,” the former president, who was in power between 2006 and 2010, said. “I’m convinced that most Chileans want an end to inequality.”

During her first term, Bachelet added a minimum pension for poor Chileans to the nation’s otherwise privately funded retirement system that was introduced under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1980s. She also raised the minimum wage but resisted calls from her own coalition to spend surplus revenue on income redistribution schemes. Instead, the government set up a sovereign wealth fund that accumulates fiscal surpluses which were first used in 2009 to finance economic stimulus programs when the economy contracted .9 percent as a result of the global financial crisis.

Average growth during Bachelet’s government was 3.3 percent. She left office with an 84 percent approval rating.

Incumbent president Sebastián Piñera, a liberal and former businessman, has done even better. Growth has averaged 5.8 percent throughout his tenure while inflation and unemployment have fallen.

Piñera is legally barred from seeking reelection. His own party has nominated former defense minister Andrés Allamand to succeed him. Former economy minister Pablo Longueira has been put forward by the conservatives. The two will face off in a leadership contest next month to determine the right’s presidential candidate. Opinion polls show that Bachelet can defeat either of them.