Challenging Michelle Bachelet for Chile presidency is a battle of two polarized lefts

Opposition to a fresh-faced, centrist left-leaning President Michelle Bachelet is seen by many on the country’s right as a chance to shake up Chile’s political system, said Jacqueline Gisser, a Dominican-American columnist who has…

Challenging Michelle Bachelet for Chile presidency is a battle of two polarized lefts

Opposition to a fresh-faced, centrist left-leaning President Michelle Bachelet is seen by many on the country’s right as a chance to shake up Chile’s political system, said Jacqueline Gisser, a Dominican-American columnist who has written about the upcoming polls. Many on the right are still casting their vote in hope that former President Sebastian Pinera, a 57-year-old right-wing extremist, can turn the country around. However, the history of Chile’s conservative parties suggests that this may not be the case.

Today’s polarized politics

The referendum vote on Bachelet’s referendum, her fourth attempt to change Chile’s constitution, is one of the most hotly contested since the end of September 11-year military dictatorship in 1990. The move to change the current constitution that gave her administration major powers to act in the interest of her Nationalist Party supporters — especially in times of crisis — has split the electorate.

The left calls for “No” in name alone. The right calls for a “Yes” in name alone.

However, a convergence of the two movements on the question of the new constitution was bolstered during the final push over the last months as Bachelet — who is constitutionally limited to one full presidential term — called for a final vote on a referendum on her proposals.

Supporters of Chile’s right-wing parties, including former Presidents Laura Chinchilla and Gen. Augusto Pinochet, are ringing out the vote through political action. Members of a conservative youth group for Chile gathered in downtown Santiago around 5 p.m. today, shouting slogans on the steps of the old Porras Congress of Chile building.

The group held up posters reading “Vote No, don’t accept the Bachelet Consequences.”

“I’m voting against what’s been happening in Chile since the change of government in 2010,” Pedro De La Concha, a 33-year-old organic farmer, said.

Yes means no

Bachelet, a former President, hopes to boost the role of education, for example, for women in what has long been seen as a male-dominated environment. The “Yes” campaign, led by Bachelet, has cozied up to the business sector to ensure a strong showing in the districts controlled by urban liberals and female mayors. The traditional “No” side of Chilean politics, typically dominated by older men and staunchly religious, is vying to make sure that pressure from the right doesn’t carry more of the load than the left.

Pinera — a Catholic, white evangelical, and descendant of Italian immigrants — has been working to broaden his coalition, reaching out to those who represent major voting blocs that have been neutered by Bachelet. Taking the oath of office for his second consecutive term in March, Pinera first met with representatives of the indigenous Mapuche, a small indigenous group that is fighting for their ancestral lands. Then came an appearance in Salta, in the north, with Roman Catholic bishops to preach that voters in southern Chile should check the box next to “Yes” to the proposal. In September, Pinera sent a letter to some 20 indigenous and Afro-Chilean communities in the area, speaking about the importance of making sure the region does not lose its identity.

The “No” side needs to make its pitch to past and present supporters of the FNP in order to reach out to voters who may be turned off from the vote, said Harry Melgar, an anthropologist and author at American University in Washington, D.C. There’s pressure, he added, to find votes in areas that were traditionally conservative in Chile, but that have been increasingly in a political quandary.

The referendum, which is referendums are held when two-thirds of Chilean voters approve a proposal, is a key battleground in 2017 because of the potential blow for Bachelet and the potential “Yes” for Pinera. With the 30-day final voting period starting next week, pollsters in both camps will need to pour over the numbers.

For more coverage of the 2015 Chile presidential election, click here.

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