Americas

Chile

Emerging Centrism

Chile’s third presidential election since restoration of civilian rule in 1990 has produced a fundamental realignment in national political forces, observes Santiago's conservative El Mercurio (Dec. 13), following the virtual dead heat between Socialist Ricardo Lagos and conservative Joaquín Lavín in a first-round vote on Dec. 12. The deadlock, which forced a runoff between Lagos and Lavín on Jan. 16 to decide the presidential winner, appears to signal the consolidation of an emerging two-party system that bolsters the strength of the political center while marginalizing the influence of extreme ideological forces on the right and the left.

In this new political environment, El Mercurio cautions, “it will be necessary to find public policies of consensus that gain the support of the majority national forces to ensure the governability and progress of Chile.”

Lavín’s surprisingly strong showing—by far the biggest vote for a conservative presidential candidate in post-Pinochet Chile—underscores that the Concertación alliance headed by Lagos must offer more than the democratization and human-rights ideals that have underpinned its political dominance over the past decade, Santiago’s conservative La Tercera says (Dec. 14).

With the economy struggling to regain momentum and unemployment uncomfortably high following a sharp slowdown in late 1998 and 1999, “it can be said that vast sectors of the country delivered a vote of censure and discontent with the [Concertación] government [of outgoing President Eduardo Frei], rooted in the economic crisis,” says La Tercera.

Widespread popular perceptions that “attribute the recession to badly managed fiscal policies” undercut the credibility of Lagos’s campaign pledge to achieve “growth with equality” even as it enhanced the attraction of Lavín’s shrewd self-packaging as a pragmatic problem-solver and the “candidate of change.”

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