Election in Chile


The election last month of Michelle Bachelet as president of Chile took place in what the local media described as a “tranquil” environment. Indeed, the atmosphere stood in sharp contrast to the turmoil surrounding the 1970 election of Socialist Salvador Allende (later overthrown in the 1973 coup) or the 1988 plebiscite that defeated General Augusto Pinochet in his bid to extend his authoritarian rule. Campaigning was strictly regulated. All electioneering was forbidden in the forty-eight hours before the vote, and the election was carried out efficiently, with a much higher turnout than in U.S. elections.

Bachelet, the candidate of the center-left political coalition known as the Concertación, received over 53 percent of the vote, 7 percent more than her opponent Sebastian Piñera, a self-made billionaire and a member of the center-right National Renovation Party. How did a single mother (and declared agnostic in a strongly Catholic country) who had never held elected office, become the first woman president in Latin America to be elected in her own right, and not because of her husband’s political success?

Bachelet is the daughter of Alberto Bachelet, a former general in the Chilean air force. She spent her early teenage years in Washington, D.C., where her father was assigned to the Chilean embassy. In the 1970s, General Bachelet worked closely with the Allende government, directing a program aimed...

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About the Author

Paul E. Sigmund is professor of politics emeritus at Princeton University. He has published two books and many articles on Chilean politics.