Chile's social democracy struggling in election

Issue 

Chile's social democracy struggling in election

By Jorge Jorquera

SANTIAGO — On December 12, Chileans will elect a new president. Extreme right-wing candidate Joaquim Lavin has been gaining ground on a campaign "for change"; Chileans are weary of a regime committed to neo-liberalism.

The Concertación which established a coalition government involving the Christian Democrats, the Socialist Party and its offshoot, the Party for Democracy, after General Augusto Pinochet was deposed in 1989 — is standing Ricardo Lagos from the Party for Democracy for president.

Despite promising "growth with equality", Lagos has had difficulty mobilising active support from the more organised sections of the Chilean working class and the Concertación has sought to change this by introducing legislation enshrining basic union rights.

The extreme right mobilised immediately, claiming that the legislation heralds a return to the era of Socialist president Salvador Allende. An association of the political organisations of small, medium and large industrialists and businesspeople is rapidly being formed to unite corporate opposition to the bill.

Already, eight Christian Democrat MPs are wavering over the bill, and the Christian Democrat president may well veto it. This would be a major defeat for Lagos, who does not at present seem likely to win 50% of the vote. A second round of voting is therefore likely, also because alternative candidates, particularly from the Communist Party (CP) and Humanist Party, are likely to win sizeable votes. Both parties have done well from the free television air time given to all candidates; every evening the message that a left alternative must be built reaches millions of households.

The CP and its candidate, Gladys Marin, are running a strong campaign. Three weeks ago they held a train ride of supporters (the train was provided by the rail workers' union) from Santiago to Temuco in the south.

A more recent rally of supporters drew 15,000 people, and important trade unions have publicly supported the party. It is possible that in a second round, the CP, together with the Humanist candidate Tomas Hirsch, may be in a position to force Lagos into making some policy commitments to win their support.