Known on this side of the Andes as that svelte piece of land where Shopping is cheap and abundant (they have an H&M store for chrissake!) and where university students passionately display tumultuous revolts against the education system, Chile is making headlines again as Michelle Bachelet, the most progressive president the country’s had since Salvador Allende, was re-elected last Sunday to run the government for the next 4 years.
Like a double-edged sword in a fast-growing economy that has admittedly known how to profit from free-market strategies such as free trade agreements, the re-election of Bachelet with over 62 percent of the popular vote represents a clear demand to revert the most intrinsic problems of a historically conservative and economically liberal country: its high levels of inequality, in a region fed by a restrictive education system and a political system that hasn’t quite managed to leave the Pinochet dictatorship behind.
In such a scenario, the stakes are high and the hopes are even higher. Here’s what you can (eagerly) expect from Michelle Bachelet’s second term:
A NEW CONSTITUTION: Although it has suffered consecutive reforms, Chile’s current Constitution was actually drafted during the country’s last dictatorship and approved by a heavily-questioned referendum (political parties were not even allowed to campaign against it) that paved the way to what was then called “a negotiated transition” between most political parties and the military government. The Constitution not only prevents any further investigation over those who ran the country with an iron fist but it remains, up to this day, pretty restrictive over modern democratic governing procedures, such as the modification of organic laws.
Bachelete’s main proposal is to create a brand new Constitution that erases the remnants of the military dictatorship and reflects the needs of Chile as the democratic and republican country it is.
EDUCATION: The flawed education system in Chile has been perhaps one of the issues that has created greater internal political turmoil, affecting the popularity of president Sebastián Piñera. In a country with such levels of inequality, the higher education system, with its high tuition rates and a pervasive student loan system, has done nothing but accentuate that disparity.
Through a rarely-seen move (a political candidate actually paying attention to the people’s demands, that is,) Bachelet presented a 6-year program that would lead to the creation of a public, inclusive and extensive higher education system that would grant access to high quality education to the vast majority of the population.
TAXES: Nueva Mayoria, the political alliance that Bachelet used as a political platform, has proposed to set up a more progressive tax system to raise US$8.2 billion, which would be used to fund sweeping reforms to the education system.
In a growing economy, it seems quite reasonable to develop a tax system in which those who earn a higher income pay a higher percentage than those with a lower income. History has proven that this may not be that easy and popular as it sounds with the powers that be. We’ll see.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Like I mentioned before, Chile is a country that sits on the conservative side, with strict bans on legal abortions and same-sex marriage. Although I don’t envision the situation taking a drastic turn in the near future, Bachelet said she’s open to discussing new legislation that could decriminalize abortion in certain cases, discuss the option to legalize same-sex marriage and solve disputes with the indigenous Mapuche community through peaceful means, rather than making use of the anti-terrorism law.
Bachelet’s proposal may seem to some beyond ideal and somewhat unreachable, but having risen to power with more than 62% of the votes due to an electorate in desperate need of a brand new political system in an economically stable context is a hard-to-find commodity and probably the dreamed scenario to any politician.
Here is to hoping she keeps her promises and the voters satisfied.
For what is worth (nothing, really), she’s got my vote.