Sunday, July 21, 2013

Is Chilean Politics Depressing? Leave It to the Women, Then

Argentines have a reputation for navel-gazing, and I’ve often written about the obsession with psychoanalysis in Buenos Aires. That’s not nearly so conspicuous in Chile, but it became front-page material this past week when rightist presidential candidate Pablo Longueira, who won a close primary election for the Alianza por Chile coalition of current president Sebastián Piñera, abruptly resigned from the race because of “depression.” The combative Longueira’s resignation is just one more negative in a topsy-turvy year for the conservative right in Chilean politics.
The Alianza, which consists of Longueira’s hard-right Unión Democrática Independiente (UDI, Independent Democratic Union) and Piñera’s more temperate Renovación Nacional (RN, National Renewal) thus found itself without a candidate even as the November 17 election was less than four months away. RN candidate Andrés Allamand, who lost narrowly to Longueira in the primary, seems reluctant to re-enter the race now that the UDI’s Evelyn Matthei (pictured above) has done so (Chile’s constitution prohibits immediate re-election of the president, so Piñera is not eligible).
Matthei, who is Piñera’s labor minister, would take on ex-president Michelle Bachelet (pictured above), who is the candidate for the Concertación para la Democracia (Consensus for Democracy), which groups several centrist and left-of-center parties (Bachelet herself is a Socialist). In a region known for its machismo, it looks as if two women will be the major candidates in the upcoming election.

That’s not the only unusual aspect to the matchup, though. Oddly, the fathers of both candidates were air force generals in 1973, when the military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew constitutional president Salvador Allende. Bachelet’s father Alberto, though, was an Allende loyalist who later died in prison, from heart disease, after being tortured. Matthei’s father Fernando, on the other hand, supported the Pinochet coup and later served as part of the junta that governed Chile from 1973 to 1990.

Ms. Matthei, whose chances of defeating Ms. Bachelet are next to nil, has surprisingly progressive views on abortion and same-sex marriage (at least in the context of a socially conservative country), though Bachelet is probably more outspoken on those topics. Matthei, though, is an unrepentant spokeswoman for economic privilege, as an article in the satirical weekly The Clinic recently suggested.

With Matthei's nomination, the self-destruction of Chile’s already discredited far right will probably continue. The unfortunate aspect is that her campaign will probably contribute to polarization in the country’s politics, and that is potentially depressing. Perhaps that’s why Longueira backed down, but it’s likelier that his depression came from the fact that he was already doomed to lose, badly.

Those of you headed to Chile until mid-November will get to see the campaigns in action. If nobody gets a majority (there are some minor party candidates), there will be a mid-December runoff, but probably Matthei herself will be surprised if Bachelet does not win in the first round.

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