Ministers given difficult task of implementing and financing demanding campaign promisesSaturday, January 25, 2014
Michelle Bachelet introduces new Cabinet
SANTIAGO — Chile’s President-elect Michelle Bachelet yesterday ended weeks of speculation about the composition of her Cabinet as she prepares to re-take the presidency on March 11 following her overwhelming win with her New Majority (Nueva Mayoría) coalition in December 2013.
Speaking at Santiago’s Plaza Francisco Hotel, Bachelet proudly announched a 23-person Cabinet that will include nine women and 14 men. The key Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Finance and Economy portfolios will be handled by Rodrigo Peñailillo, Heraldo Muñoz, Jorge Burgos, Alberto Arenas and Luis Felipe Céspedes.
Chile’s particularly sensitive Education ministry has been given to former Finance minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre, who must implement Bachelet’s campaign promise of free tuition for 70 percent of students from low-income households within the next four years and free education in the following six years. President Sebastián Piñera has been plagued by education problems and his administration has claimed many Education ministers unable to meet societal demands for improvements in the access, quality and cost of education in Chile.
The divvying up of political appointments left the following balance of power: Six ministries for the Democracy Party (Partido por la Democracia, PPD), five for the Christian Democrats (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, DC), one for the Communist Party (Partido Comunista, PC), two for the Radical Party (Partido Radical, PR), three for the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS), one for the Christian Left (Izquierda Cristiana, IC) and five independents.
Chilean political circles had been buzzing about Bachelet’s new Cabinet as an announcement had been anticipated for Thursday. However, following rumours of squabbles and rejected offers, the ceremony was pushed back to yesterday.
The haggling for ministries was the first test of unity of Bachelet’s New Majority coalition following the succesful elections and internal fissures were visible. Chilean media have reported that the Christian Democrats had been uncomfortable with an initial offer made by Bachelet which included four to five ministries, of which two would be held by independents. The DC rejected this offer as “unfriendly” and complained that the DC would find itself losing out to the Socialists, Communists and the PPD in the Cabinet. The DC is the most centrist component within the left-leaning New Majority coalition.
Further negotiations gave the DC the Defence portfolio and they have declared themselves to be well-represented in the new Cabinet.
Also of note was the naming of Claudia Pascual to the Women’s National Service. Pascual thus becomes the first Communist Party minister in Chile since 1973, when Salvador Allende’s government was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet.
In initial comments during yesterday’s announcement, Bachelet said that “We have committed to a programme and a project for Chile. It’s time to work, work, and work... people are expecting a great deal from us and that we hand over a country in four years that will allow us to have a better country.”
Bachelet’s ministers certainly have their work cut out for them and President Sebastián Piñera has already made his Cabinet available to ease the transitions by cancelling their holidays.
Heraldo Muñoz (PPD), Chile’s new Foreign Minister will undoubtedly be immediately thrown into the mix as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is set to publish its decision on Monday over a border dispute between Chile and Peru. Piñera has already promised to speak to Bachelet and his counterpart Ollanta Humala in Peru once the decision has been received and before speaking publicly. Muñoz will undoubtedly be responsible for implementing the ICJ’s decision with his Peruvian counterpart irrespective of the outcome.
Finance Minister Alberto Arenas (PS) will have to craftily raise an estimated US$8.2 billion in taxes in the next five years to help finance Bachelet’s ambitious programmes.
Finally, Bachelet’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo of the PPD, is seen as one of her closest associates and lead the campaign for her re-election. Peñailillo will have be politically responsible for Chile’s police and has been entrusted with handling demonstrations promised by university students and the likely opposition to ambitious transformational platform. The long-running Mapuche Indian dispute will also fall under his remit.
Having promised a great deal during the campaign Bachelet has now picked her team to implement her platform. She thus embarks upon her new presidential mandate with a majority in Congress, a split and regrouping centre-right opposition and an seeming appetite for action.