Chilean Communists hold election balance

After its central committee met on Dec. 14, the Communist Party of Chile (CPC) put forth a number of minimum demands to the plurality-winning candidate Michelle Bachelet as a condition for support. Bachelet, candidate of the Socialist Party, got 46 percent of the vote, followed by the millionaire center-right candidate Sebastián Piñera, whom she will face in a second round in January 2006, with 25 percent.

The other two candidates, extreme right Pinochet-supporter Joaquín Lavín and left candidate Tomás Hirsch, received 23 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

The CPC’s first demand is a commitment to reform the electoral system from a two-coalition, winner-take-all system, to one of proportional representation. Hirsch, chairman of the Humanist Party and presidential candidate of the Junto PODEMOS Más coalition, which include the CPC, said after the Dec. 11 elections that if Chile had a real proportional representation system, the PODEMOS coalition would’ve gotten eight seats in the national parliament.

The system in place today, which was put in place by the Pinochet dictatorship, forces smaller parties to join the center-left or right-wing coalition. The ruling center-left Coalition of Parties for Democracy, dominated by the Socialists and Christian Democrats, has rejected a broader left-center coalition with the Communists.

In the area of labor, the Communists are arguing for labor law reform which would give “the right to collective bargaining to all Chilean workers,” the right of unions to represent workers in more than one company and “the effective right to strike.”

The CPC wants the government to use the budget surplus to raise to raise the pensions of retirees that get the minimum amount by 100 percent as well doubling the supplemental pensions for seniors and the disabled.

The Communists are calling on Bachelet to oppose a mining project that would adversely impact on communities and environment of the original peoples of the Southern Cone of South America.

Lastly, they want a commitment from the Socialist candidate to work closely with the human rights organization to truly address the issues of the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. The victims and families of those disappeared and killed want a full accounting and punishment for those guilty of human rights violations during the 17-year dictatorship, starting with Augusto Pinochet. Some forces from the right all the way to Socialist Party leaders have pushed for a policy of “putting it all behind us, and moving on.”

The two rightist candidates, who have now joined forces, polled 185,000 votes more than Bachelet. She will need the 372,000 votes of the PODEMOS coalition to win the presidency.

Political pundits are saying that there is little difference in the policies of the center-left Bachelet and the center-right Piñera. Both candidates support neoliberal economic policies. Lavín, who now heads Piñera’s campaign, came to fame as one of the “Chicago boys” — the group of economists who implemented neoliberal, trickle-down policies for the Pinochet dictatorship, which included outlawing trade unions and the minimum wage, as well as privatizing the country’s social security system.

Hirsch announced shortly after the elections that his Humanist Party will cast a “null vote” in the January elections. Guillermo Teillier, chairman of the CPC, said that he was saddened the Humanist Party took that position without consulting the rest of the coalition, but agreed that “neither candidate gives us any guarantee of anything.”