Thursday, July 18, 2013

Chilean Opposition Candidate Drops Out, Paving the Way for a Bachelet Victory

Four months before Chile’s November 17 presidential elections, conservative candidate Pablo Longueira has dropped out of the race, leaving the country’s right-wing coalition fractured and virtually guaranteeing the reelection of former President Michelle Bachelet.

In a televised news conference, one of Longueira’s sons announced that his father was ending his campaign for mental health reasons. “After the election in the primaries, following some days of rest, his health deteriorated due to medically diagnosed depression,” said Juan Pablo Longueira.

A member of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party, Longueira received the backing of the conservative Alliance for Chile coalition after beating National Renovation (RN) candidate Andres Allamand in the Alliance’s primary elections on June 30. In the wake of the announcement, it is unclear who will succeed Longueira in November. The coalition’s leadership is expected to discuss the matter this week, and has until mid-August to declare a candidate.

But with no clear successor, it may be unable to agree on a single candidate. According to news site The Clinic, the UDI is unlikely to support Allamand, who distanced himself from the Alliance after losing the primary. Labor Minister Evelyn Matthei, whose name has come up as a potential successor in the UDI, told EFE that the right-wing coalition’s next move was uncertain. “This has been a huge political upheaval. We have to go back to square one. There might be a new primary, or there may be two candidates,” said Matthei. La Tercera reports that in addition to Allamand and Matthei, former public works minister Laurence Golborne (who dropped out of the race in April amidst a financial scandal) is seen as another option.

The disarray on the right stands in stark contrast to the left-wing Concertacion coalition, which has firmly rallied around Bachelet. The former president has wide public support, with polls earlier this month giving her a 14-point lead over Longueira. Considering that she received over 3 million votes in the Concertacion’s primaries -- almost twice as many as Longueira and Allamand combined -- it is unlikely that the conservatives will be able to effectively challenge her in the next four months.

Her popular mandate has allowed Bachelet to adopt a more reformist platform, and in April she claimed she would be open to holding a constitutional assembly to reform Chile’s Pinochet-era constitution. Although earlier this month El Mostrador reported that she had placed some distance between herself and the idea of holding a referendum, she has assembled a team of experts across Chile’s left to outline reform proposals, which is expected to submit a report in September.

News Briefs
  • In an op-ed published in yesterday’s New York Times, Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has weighed in on the recent protests in the country. According to Lula, while some attribute the demonstrations as a rejection of traditional politics, they reflect support for the idea of deepening the democratic process. In recognition of this trend, he called for “profound renewal” within his ruling Workers’ Party (PT), saying it must “recover its daily links with social movements and offer new solutions for new problems, and do both without treating young people paternalistically.” The president also voiced support for current President Dilma Rousseff, praising her proposal to hold a plebiscite on political reforms.
  • One day after Cuba acknowledged ownership of the missile equipment discovered in the Panama Canal on Monday, the North Korean government has released a statement calling the shipment “nothing more but aging weapons which are to send back to Cuba after overhauling them, according to a legitimate contract.” Meanwhile the NYT reports that the ship carrying the weaponry rarely stops at Cuban ports, and another North Korean freighter made a similarly suspicious voyage to Cuba last year. So far, the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions committee has yet to determine whether the cargo violated UN sanctions.
  • In spite of Monday’s missile incident, and the subsequent howling of Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, scheduled talks between Cuban and U.S. authorities on migration issues were held yesterday as planned. According to a State Department press release, the talks touched on advances on the issue, and stressed the need for further progress on 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, “especially those having to do with safeguarding the lives of intending immigrants.”
  • El Salvador’s El Faro reports that President Mauricio Funes has vetoed a bill passed by the Salvadoran legislatura which sought to criminalize media reports featured “disparaging” remarks about political candidates. The bill was strongly opposed by civil society groups in the country, who saw it as an attack on free speech.
  • According to Animal Politico, Mexico’s two main opposition parties, the PAN and PRD, have announced they will stay in the “Pact for Mexico,” although it appears that their request for the addition of anti-corruption measures to the pact was not agreed to by the PRI.  
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal features a piece highlighting Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s success at shifting national attention away from crime and violence to economic issues. While the country’s drug-related violence continues, the president has determined to organize the national agenda on development and political reforms. The aftermath of the arrest of Zetas leader “Z-40” proved a perfect illustration of this. The WSJ notes that the day after a major press conference announcing the arrest, the president was “back to other business,” unveiling a new factory in San Luis Potosi state.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles arrived in Chile yesterday, and is expected to meet with President Sebastian Piñera sometime today. Afterwards, Capriles has announced plans to travel to Peru, though there have been no reports that he will be received by Peruvian President Ollanta Humala. In response to the meeting, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told reporters, “vagabonds travel the world, but the government of Nicolas Maduro is here.”
  • Maduro is set to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos today in a meeting on the Venezuela-Colombia border that is expected to repair ties after the Colombian president met with Capriles earlier this year. Semana magazine claims that, beyond the photo op, pending issues to discuss inlude deepening trade, border security and Venezuela’s support for talks with FARC guerrillas in Havana.
  • A group of Ashaninka Indians in Peru’s central Junin department have been accused of killing eight men they found on their ancestral lands in the Amazon, according to the AP. La Republica speculated that the men were illegal loggers, and reports that investigators believe the deaths may have been revenge for the May murder of an Ashaninka community leader who spoke out against illegal logging in the area.

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