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From the March 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 3)

Chile

On Shifting Political Sands

Robert Taylor, World Press Review Contributing Editor

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Wake-up call for Chilean president Ricardo Lagos (Photo: AFP).
As President Ricardo Lagos strives to carry out his ambitious agenda to revitalize Chile’s struggling economy amid political turbulence unleashed by major governing-coalition setbacks in December parliamentary elections, he faces the most daunting political challenge since his accession to power two years ago.

The leading conservative party UDI (Independent Democratic Union) scored the biggest gains, capturing about 25 percent of the national vote, largely at the expense of the centrist Christian Democrats in the ruling Concertación. Chilean commentators observed that the important story in 2002 will be whether the postelection strains on the nation’s two broad party alliances precipitate the most sweeping realignment of political forces since the end of the Pinochet era.

At Lagos’ year-end summit with national party leaders to seek support for his 2002 legislative initiatives, Lagos attempted to “put the politics of dialogue into practice to confront...the international recession, the events in Argentina, and the impact that these factors will have on national life” in 2002, wrote El Siglo in a lead report co-authored by Raúl Blanchet, Arnaldo Pérez Guerra, and Julio Oliva García (Jan. 4). Yet in the aftermath of parliamentary elections that “clearly show a gain for the most reactionary elements of the right” and a weakening of support for the Concertación, “the hegemony of the center” in the post-Pinochet period “is giving way to the strengthening of the extremes,” El Siglo said. This puts at clear risk the capacity to govern “that has been based up to now on the ‘center-right’ axis.”

Enrique Correa argued in El Mercurio (Jan. 15) that Lagos had succeeded through a flurry of postelection provincial and regional administrative appointments and a January cabinet reshuffle in “recapturing the leadership role.” Chile will become a haven of stability, Correa wrote, and “we must...make our country the preferred choice at the moment when investors are deciding whether to remain in Latin America or abandon it.”

La Tercera cautioned (Jan. 11) that the center-right Alliance for Chile is at risk of squandering its increased legislative clout in the new national legislature unless leaders of the dominant UDI and its junior coalition partner RN (National Renovation)—which has seen its electoral base erode as the UDI has moved into ascendancy—move to end a postelection spat. “The three years ahead for the nation, free of elections, demand the best efforts both of the executive branch and the opposition, which will be able to make a contribution only by presenting itself, above all, as an organized bloc...prepared to support grand national accords,” La Tercera said. “The great challenge...for the RN and the UDI is to [close] ranks behind a political project that offers governability to Chile” and transform the Alliance...from “an electorally successful alliance into a politically viable coalition.”

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