Friday
April 18, 2014

Marco Enríquez Ominami talks to the Herald

Thursday, December 5, 2013

‘Bachelet needs to decide where she stands”

Former Chilean presidential candidate Marco Enríquez-Ominami.
By Carolina Thibaud
Herald Staff

On November 17, and for the second consecutive time, leftist political figure Marco Enríquez Ominami finished in third place in Chile’s president election.

He had first surprised the country four years ago, when almost out of the blue he managed to take 20 percent of the vote in an election that was eventually won by the country’s current President Sebastián Piñera.

This time, he took only 11 percent but his small, leftist PRO party managed to remain the country’s third-biggest political force, even though former president Michelle Bachelet had all but won the election before it started.

With only 10 days to go before the second round of voting — which will pitch Bachelet against the right’s candidate, Evelyn Matthei — Enríquez Ominami talked to the Herald about the former president’s ambiguity, the problems of the Chilean right and citizen apathy toward politics.

How would you assess your work and that of your campaign team?

I think very highly of our campaign. We managed to maintain third place against all odds. We are still the strongest political force outside of Chile’s political duopoly. If 70 percent of Chileans had voted, our polls showed we would have been very close to second place. It was a great result but you clearly don’t win an election with 11 percent of the vote. So we also have some self-criticism to carry out...

How did you go from 20 percent in the last presidential election to 11 percent in this election?

We read the result positively. The vote in 2009 was a protest vote, this time it was a proposal vote. Competing against (Eduardo) Frei (the leftist coalition’s candidate in 2009) is not the same as competing with Bachelet. And low turnout hit us really hard.

I believe Evelyn Matthei and Michelle Bachelet made a big mistake: they de-politicized the election. There was very little debate. They avoided going into specifics and saying how they would do things. When you ask somebody to marry you, you tell them “Marry me,” you don’t tell them “let’s discuss marriage.” Michelle Bachelet’s campaign consisted of saying “let’s discuss these issues.”

But Bachelet did make some pretty tangible proposals: she proposed a tax reform, free education and a constitutional reform...

She said she wanted a new Constitution, but which one? I also want quality education and I want a world without pollution... she did, however, win with 46 percent of the vote so it is indisputable that Chileans prefer the change that she represents. But I do think Bachelet still needs to decide if what she wants is change or almost change.

Do you think Bachelet’s ambiguity is a consequence of her own coalition’s lack of coherence?

Yes, at least in part. Her coalition pulls together several student leaders (like the Communist Party’s Camila Vallejo) that are against making a profit in education and people who profit from education. There are people who are against same-sex marriage and people who are in favour of it.

If a person votes for Bachelet on December 15, what is one voting for?

You are voting for change after Piñera but you are not voting for a constituent assembly, for example, because Bachelet hasn’t pronounced herself in favour of it. To say it boldly, I wouldn’t give the Concertación (Bachelet’s coalition) a blank cheque. I believe that Bachelet genuinely wants change, but she can’t say it.

Bachelet has all but won the run-off. What will she find once she takes office?

She will find an economy that will shrink, she will find that the price of energy and the price of labour are rising, that political movements are fragmented and that her coalition is in this pendulum I’ve been talking about.

Will she be able to carry out the promises she made during the campaign? Will she have the support she needs in Congress?

We are going to support all the good initiatives and I hope our 11 percent contributes to the most progressive sector in her coalition taking control.

Have you told your voters to vote for her in the run-off?

No, I’ve said what I just told you: she already won. I’ve given my voters freedom to act in whichever way they want because I believe that’s the way to relate to electors. I’ve only said that I will vote on December 15.

Matthei’s 25 percent is a really poor result for the Chilean right. How do you interpret it?

It’s not what they wanted but it is not a disastrous result. She did win second place and she finished way ahead of us. The fact that it was the first presidential election with a voluntary vote made it very difficult to forecast the result. Fifty percent of Chileans didn’t vote.

Would you say Piñera is to blame for the right’s result?

Only in part. I think the right misread the political scenario in Chile by choosing a candidate that is openly pro-Pinochet. What did they not get? I’ve got my own hypothesis... they had no option because 90 percent of the Chilean right is pro-Pinochet, 90 percent is proud of the dictatorship.

Do you also think the fact that Bachelet was perceived as the winner from the beginning of the campaign contributed to low turnout?

Yes, of course. It was a won race. And, in fact, it is also what candidates are fighting against right now... the “won race” syndrome is even worse than during the first round. Christmas, summer, “won race” syndrome, programmatic ambiguity... all contribute to low turnout.

What did the coup’s 40 year anniversary this year mean for Chileans?

I think it was very intense for Chileans. It was a moment to reconnect with the country’s past. I think that, in this sense, Piñera is quite controversial: he did close the Cordillera prison (in which former repressors enjoyed special privileges), he did say that Matthei had made a mistake when voting in favour of the dictatorship continuing. He had low approval ratings all throughout his presidency but he is starting to do better. I think he will copy Bachelet’s strategy and run again in the next election.

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