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Challenges for Piñera as new President of Chile

In 2010, when Piñera took office for the first time, he lead a right wing coalition which, for the first time in 52 years, was elected democratically into power; at the time he defeated the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia party, a center-left alliance that had been in power since the military coup of Augusto Pinochet.

On that occasion, his main challenge was to manage a government and implement privatizing and deregulating policies which deepened the neoliberal model that the Concertación Party had tried to modify. Piñera´s first government will be remembered for its economic growth (5.3% average), job creation, student protests, the miners rescue crisis and an Earthquake that left 525 deaths. The lack of experience of his collaborators in government management and his political skill to juggle the coalition, maintained Piñera at approval levels under 50%.

Four years later Piñera returns to office in a moment when the demands for the Chilean society are still focused on greater equality. In regards to the economy, he will be favored by low growth of the economy, which for 2018 it is estimated between 2.5 and 3.5, far above the 1.4% estimated for 2017. So his first challenge is to translate this growth into sustained social welfare.

Surely, one of the most controversial subject matters is the different views in Chile of what is understood by “welfare” and the means to achieve it. Piñera and his coalition claim that the market is the best awarder of funds and thus, welfare. In this sense, while corporations and entrepreneurs are called on to create wealth, the government needs to secure the right condition for this to happen.

However, Piñera needs to pass policies in a minority and fickle Congress, which for the first time, will be occupied by groups different from the traditional two-party coalitions which governed Chile since its return to democracy. Most come from the left and are critical of the Chilean neoliberal model; they do not trust the market and thus request a government to set the policies to guarantee universal social rights.

Therefore, his second challenge is to adapt to the new and diverse multi-party scenario. The government of former President Michelle Bachelet implemented structural reforms that included changes to the electoral system, political parting operation, abortion decriminalization, free education and tax reforms which need to be managed with a different than original logic. The political tension this will create will produce a new scenario which will require great management skills.

Avoid tensions and divisions

A third challenge is the relationship between the government and society, especially with groups that support structural changes in education, pensions, and healthcare. The government needs to strengthen its diagnostics, conflict prevention capabilities and how to manage the diverse visions and policies within the government coalition and citizen demands, including topics such as LGBT adoption and gay marriage.

Another thing will be the relationship between the political power and the corporate world, a subject matter which Piñera tackled during his first administration due to the controversial external management of his personal wealth and which again be a topic of discussion within the political ring. Piñera comes from the private sector and his political relationships come from this sector, hence most of his ministers also come from that sector and has appointed Alfredo Moreno to the Ministry of Social Development, a difficult task for an individual coming from the private sector.

His fifth challenge will be how he will manage his own coalition. Chilean politics provides the president a key role in managing alliances, trying to coordinate the party and its members.

Taking this into account, during his first administration was notable for taking decisions independently, generating friction with the political parties. This situation could take a turn for the worst as his current coalition is larger and it could create political issues within. Piñera will also have 12 independent members in his cabinet, reducing the influence of the parties in a coalition government. As a new member of his cabinet summarized it as this administration will need more politics and less management.

The last challenge will be related to the future plan of the political project of the president and his administration. Different from his previous experience, which ended in defeat, by losing the presidential elections, Piñera hopes this time it will have another outcome and help project the right for more years in office.

The biggest challenge is his capability to build and maintain a political majority hanging on to his dreams, also the needs and organization of the complex and demanding Chilean society. It is essential for Piñera to read this well, considering the social complexities and not only a market focus as the axis for social relationships.


Consejo Editorial