Bachelet’s Historic Second Term Confirmed in Chile


EspañolOn Sunday, Michelle Bachelet, candidate for the New Majority alliance, won the presidential run-off. After tallying 99.97 percent of the polling stations, the socialist candidate won with 62.16 percent of the votes over her opponent Evelyn Matthei, candidate for the ruling National Renovation party, who had 37.83 percent. This result was replicated in all the regions of Chile, with no wide disparities.

The first round of these presidential elections took place on November 17, in which Bachelet achieved the lead for votes — 20 percentage points above her opponent. However, she did not gain the necessary majority in order to win the presidential election outright. The president of the Electoral Service (Servel), Patricio Santamaría, in a final reading of the those results, said the New Majority candidate earned 3 million votes, which represents 46.67 percent of the total votes cast.

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After these results, the candidates had to face a second electoral, runoff round. At that time, Bachelet said to voters, “there aren’t two readings here: we have won this election with a wide majority; we knew it was hard to [get the majority] in the first round but we were very close, and we will win in December.”

Chile’s electoral roll has 13.5 million voters, who were eligible to participate in these presidential elections, and according to the Definite Electoral Roll, 5.7 million people cast their vote last Sunday. Despite the slight rise to majority abstention — 58 percent — the government announced that this wouldn’t delegitimize the results.

After proclaiming her victory, Bachelet stated, “Today we open a new chapter, and we do it recognizing the hard work each generation and democratic governments have had in Chile’s development.” Her speech also focused on the “historical moment” the country is living, and she assured that Chile will undergo many changes during her tenure. “It’s the moment to start an in-depth transformation,” she said, and she reaffirmed her stand for ending the “abuses and exclusions” that today’s Chileans have to bear.

According to Constanza Mazzina, a PhD in political science and professor at the Argentinean University for Business Studies, Bachelet’s election has at least two meanings: “The low participation in the second round, which was less than 50 percent of the electoral roll, makes us question the viability of these reforms. Beyond the number of deputies and senators gained, who will support the new president and give her the necessary majority to push forward her program, the high percentage of abstention makes us wonder up to what point Chile’s people are behind her with these reforms.”

Fully taxpayer-funded and open-admissions higher education and an efficient system of public health were her leading proposals. Bachelet said she didn’t believe in magic formulas, and that she’s willing to do the necessary work in order to carry out this project, which implies challenging political negotiations, given her limited support in Parliament.

Out of the 38 senators and 120 deputies that compose the Parliament, the New Majority alliance won 21 and 67 respectively. If they get the support of the four independent legislators in the Lower House, they can obtain the needed number of votes to approve reforms on same-sex marriage, education, and taxes. Nonetheless, if parties like the Independent Democratic Union and National Renovation remain opposed, the constitutional reforms — particularly to Chile’s complicated binomial electoral system — will require tougher negotiations.

The second meaning is about her reelection:

“Chile has been one of the few Latin-American countries that hasn’t fallen into the temptation of reforming its constitution and allowing immediate reelection. In fact, Chile’s model of non-immediate reelection, similar to Argentina’s before the 1994 reform, establishes that a president can end a tenure with high levels of approval and seek reelection later on, without out falling into opportunism and remain in power,” Mazzina explains.

Since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, Bachelet will be the first president to have a second tenure. The approach of Chile’s former presidents contrasts with the attitude of other Latin-American rulers, who have exhibited desire and strategies to remain in power. Regarding these arguments against consecutive reelection, Mazzina claims that Chile’s experience “shows that presidents are responsible for their voters. The alternation in power between competing political parties, ideas and rulers is not only healthy for democracy, but it also strengthens it.”

Translated by Marcela Estrada.

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