Chile will hold its presidential election Sunday, November 17, and it is all but certain that former President Michelle Bachelet will emerge victorious. This anticipated and unsurprising victory comes amidst unusual (but luckily for Bachelet non-career-ending) allegations that the former president’s campaign team plagiarized part of a song by Jinja Safari, an Australian music band. (The song in question is called “Peter Pan,” which can beheard here; Bachelet’s campaign promo in question seems to bethis one; aYouTube version of the campaign videohas been taken down). The Australian band’s legal teams are “preparing an infringement notice,” to be sent to Bachelet’s office.
While this incident will quickly be forgotten — thewebsite of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Tradehighlights that Canberra and Santiago enjoy good diplomatic ties and trade between the two states reached A$1.6 billion in 2012 [a1] – it does put the former head of state in an awkward position before her expected victory.
It does not obscure, however, the numerous clues as to how she would govern domestically. The past months have involved a flurry of promises by Bachelet, including a reform of Chile’s tax system within her first 100 days and potential alterations to theChilean constitution. Another big plank is her promise of free education foruniversity students(who have staged major protests over the past couple of years). Known for being on the left side of the spectrum when it comes to political ideology, there is concern that Bachelet’s promises are too “radical” for some Chileans. Bachelet’s sharpest critics include currentPresident Sebastian Piñeraand elements of theChilean entrepreneurial sector, which does not like Bachelet’s promise of higher taxes on corporations.Forbes echoed their criticismin an article wondering whether Bachelet’s re-election might have a powerful negative effect on the South American nation’s vibrant economy. (Read more:Copper and reforms to drive Chile’s economy under Bachelet).
It should be noted that there is still ongoing debate whether Bachelet will retake the presidency in the first round of voting or if a second round will be necessary (this would occur on December 15) against opposition candidate Evelyn Matthei. According to figures frompolling agency CEP, Bachelet is expected to get 47-48% of the votes. Chilean analysts have recently raised the issue of a “silent vote,” which could benefit Matthei. However, the CEP poll shows that Matthei is expected to receive only 14% of the vote. Hence, Matthei would need a major upset when it comes to “silent voters” if she wants to be a credible threat to the former leader.
It should also be stressed, however, that successful initiatives by the next Chilean head of state will depend on the future makeup of the country’s two-chamber Congress: it consists of a 120-seat chamber of deputies and a 38-seat senate. All seats in the deputy chamber are up for grabs this upcoming election, as well as 20 seats of the senate. Currently,Bachelet’s Nueva Mayoría coalition counts 20 senators and 57 deputies, while Alianza (Matthei’s coalition) has 16 senators and 55 deputies. These evenly matched numbers means that Bachelet will have to win big on Sunday at the legislative level if she wants to bring about radical reforms (like upgrading the country’s constitution). It is noteworthy that, just like in the U.S., Chile’s congress has a sky-high disapproval rating. A poll carried out byGfK Adimarkthroughout September showed that Chile’s deputy chamber has a disapproval rating of 76%, while the senate’s disapproval rating is at a very close 73%. Which means the next Chilean congress could have a drastically different make up than the current one, another potential hurdle for Bachelet.
At the international level, the question is more vexed. Chile will be the next representative for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.N. Security Council for the 2014-2015 period, which brings with it a whole host of potential headaches — due less to the power Chile would wield than to the politicking such a seat necessarily entails.
The regional political terrain is also fraught: Bachelet declared over the summer that the Pacific Alliance — the newest trade bloc to emerge in Latin America —should open itself to more members. Bachelet’s declarations hint that her eventual government will be in favor of this type of free-trade coalitions, so we will also likely see her supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). (Sebastián Piñera, the man whose office she looks likely to assume is also apparently of this mindset: on November 4-7, Santiago hosted around of TPP negotiations, which focused on state-owned enterprises).
A more localized point of friction, however, will be her nation’s controversial maritime border dispute with Peru. The two countries have gone to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to get a ruling on the shape of their maritime. The ownership of roughly 38 thousand square kilometers of South Pacific waters (rich with marine life, which could be a huge asset to either country’s fishing industry) hangs in the balance, and a verdict is expected within the coming months. So far both Santiago and Lima have declared that they will respect the ICJ’s verdict and will continue to maintain close trade relations and other “good neighbor” initiatives. Still, there is the lingering concern of what could happen should ICJ rule against Santiago and if an unfavorable ruling could hike up tensions between Lima and Santiago and, in a worst case scenario, lead to an armed conflict. Speaking on the subject,Bachelet declared in Augustthat the dispute with Peru will be solved through international law and that Chile is a country that believes in dialogue and cooperation. As Chile’s former president and a one-time defense minister, Bachelet knows the capabilities of her nation’s armed forces and knows how to handle her country’s military, should The Hague rule in Lima’s favor, to prevent this dispute from escalating.
Barring an unexpected upset, Michelle Bachelet will be the country’s next president. There are issues that she will have to face at the international level, such as the aforementioned maritime dispute with Peru, tensions with Bolivia and Chile’s role in the UNSC. Nevertheless, her major challenges will be at the domestic level. While the country has experienced a vibrant economy over the past years, there are concerns that the “Chilean miracle” could burst sometime soon (her critics argue that this will happen under her leadership). This economic miracle has not reached all segments of the Chilean population, case in point being the protesting university students. Combine that with Bachelet’s plans for tax and constitutional reform and she will have plenty to keep her busy at home.