On a knife's edge
THE DECISIVE vote in Chile's presidential election is due on Sunday, with polls indicating a close result. The choice is between Ricardo Lagos, the candidate of the governing centre-left coalition, and Joaquin Lavin of the right wing Alliance for Chile. Until a few months ago Lagos looked to be set for an easy victory. But in the first round of voting before Christmas he only narrowly led Lavin, by 47.96 percent to 47.52 percent.
Sunday's result will depend on which way those who voted for minor candidates, and those who didn't vote, now jump. Lagos was a member of the Socialist Party which, under President Salvador Allende governed Chile from 1970 to 1973. Allende's government was overthrown in a bloody coup headed by General Augusto Pinochet, in which thousands, including Allende himself, were murdered. The US backed the coup. In the 1980s an upsurge of protests forced Pinochet's regime to allow a return to parliamentary democracy, though with huge powers still reserved for the military.
The current coalition government in Chile includes the Socialists and the centre-right Christian Democrats. It also includes the Party for Democracy, launched by Lagos as he has distanced himself from the legacy of Allende's regime. Unemployment has soared in Chile over the last two years.
Lagos has pledged that if elected he will push ahead with plans to privatise the water industry and public transport, as well as open up the key copper industry to private investment. He also states that he will continue to oppose the extradition of Pinochet to Spain on human rights charges.
Incredibly he has even sought to let Pinochet and his supporters off the hook by absolving them of blame for the 1973 coup. Lagos now says Allende's government brought about its own downfall. This is a travesty of the truth. No wonder Lagos's campaign has done little to win popular support.
That has opened up the awful spectre of the right winning the election. Joaquin Lavin has run a populist campaign, but his record is far from savoury. He was a key supporter of Pinochet's regime in its early years. A victory for Lavin would be a victory for the most reactionary forces in Chile. Whatever the outcome on Sunday, Chile's workers will have to organise and fight if they want real change.