Section: Global Kenyon

Global Kenyon: Piñera takes office in Chile

Senator Alejandro Guillier, endorsed by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, lost to Sebastian Piñera on Dec. 17, 2017 in the most recent presidential election. The loss marks the third time in 12 years that Bachelet and Piñera will trade the powers of the presidency. Piñera’s second four-year term began on March 11.

Bachelet, leader of the center-left New Majority, became the first female president of Chile in 2006. She lost the presidency to Piñera, a conservative businessman, in 2010. Bachelet reclaimed the presidency in 2014, but lost again to Piñera in the most recent election. The Chilean constitution does not allow consecutive presidential terms. A loss for Guillier can be seen as a loss for Bachelet and the left and a consolidation of the region’s rightward political shift.

Professor Nancy R. Powers, assistant director of the Center for the Study of American Democracy, who specializes in Latin American politics, sees the frequent switch between Bachelet and Piñera as “a really good sign.”

“Democracy is supposed to have alternation of power,” she said. “I think that’s normal politics — the pendulum swings back and forth.”

In the same election, a more diverse Congress was elected due to the new implementation of political gender quotas. These quotas require parties to nominate a minimum of 40 percent female representatives. Because of this new “strikingly politically diverse” Congress, Piñera anticipates a “vigorous political opposition” and has portrayed himself as a deal maker, according to a March 10 New York Times article.

Willa Lerner ’18, whose senior exercise in international studies focused on the implementation of political gender quotas in Chile and Argentina, said that “offering women equal access to positions is not the same as guaranteeing that they have the same level of support.” She sees Piñera’s return to power as a “natural transition” rather than the end of female representation in Latin American politics.

Chile had a difficult democratization process beginning in 1990 after an oppressive 17-year military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet. Powers sees Chile as “a success story of redemocratization.” Lerner agreed, citing her observations of the political climate while abroad in Chile. “I think the national memory is long enough that it wouldn’t slide back to dictatorship,” she said.

Though democratization has been successful, the country relies heavily on China for its economic growth, who outperformed the United States on trade to the country in 2010.

“China has been gaining ground in Latin America in part because China has been pursuing it and partly because the United States is stepping back,” Piñera said in an interview with The New York Times.

Lerner said she feels that democracy in Chile is stable, especially because of the country’s difficult past with dictatorship.

“It’s still so new that it’s hard to see if alternation is just going to be how the game goes, or if there is possibility for consecutive terms,” she said. “I am curious to see if there is a resurgence of women, if women are regularly elected to presidencies in Latin America, if they continue to be elected.”

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