viernes, 25 de abril de 2008

What Does Provoste's Ouster Mean for the Bachelet Government?

Chile's Senate last week voted to remove Education Minister Yasna Provoste from office for alleged financial abuses at the ministry, the first time a cabinet-level official has been dismissed by Congress since Chile's return to democracy in 1990. What is the significance of Provoste's ouster for the government of President Michelle Bachelet? What does it say about the strength of the opposition? PUBLICADO POR INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE'S, 25042008

AGuest Comment: Guillermo Holzmann: "This was a defeat for the government. First, it meant losing a minister who had projected leadership in her field—particularly in the face of problematic sectors and people with demands—like students and teachers, auguring a strong political future for her. In addition, she represented the renewal of women political leaders. Second, the government is bearing the cost of conflicts among the Concertacion parties, which resulted in the resignation of several deputies and senators (the so-called 'unruly ones') from their respective parties and which definitively solidified the majority that removed Minister Provoste from office, showing the the government's lack of negotiating ability to win enough backing to save Provoste. The opposition won an important political triumph. On the one hand, it established the perception of generalized corruption in the government that will require the president to apply a zerotolerance policy to any irregularity. However, this 'new majority' is not entirely Alianza. This means a diverse minority will be strengthened with a high aptitude for bribery to assure the government's flagship projects are not approved if the government can't establish an efficient and credible platform to negotiate with the 'unruly' lawmakers. In conclusion, Chilean democracy was weakened in this conflict, opening the door to even more intense conflicts in the future."

Guest Comment: Jorge Heine: "The ouster of Education Minister Yasna Provoste has been a serious setback for President Bachelet. It came in tandem with another, a decision by the Constitutional Court to ban the free distribution of the 'morning after' pill, in a country where abortions are illegal and 50 percent of children are born out of wedlock, mostly to teenage mothers. Yet on both issues the government has a majority of public opinion behind it, and much depends on how it gears up for next October's municipal elections. Bachelet, whose approval ratings are at 50 percent, can use the new sense of unity within the Concertacion—the ruling coalition—to mount an aggressive campaign and gain a solid victory in October, repositioning the center-left for the December 2009 presidential elections. The right-wing opposition is in a quandary. Having tasted blood and consolidated its new majority in the Senate, first with the election of expelled Christian Democrat Adolfo Zaldivar to its presidency, and then with Provoste's impeachment, it is looking for more, in keeping with the estrategia del desalojo ('throw out the rascals') of Senator Andres Allamand. Yet Chileans don't like confrontation. Neither does Sebastian Piñera, the billionaire opposition leader at the head of all presidential polls. Having opened the Pandora's box of ministerial impeachment, the opposition could well use it to paralyze the government. If it does, it may, in the best tradition of the past 18 years, become its own worst enemy."

AGuest Comment: Patricio Navia: "The removal of a cabinet minister by the Chilean Congress ... represents much more a symptom of the deteriorating quality of politics than evidence of increased corruption or a signal of an implosion within the ruling Concertacion ...When Bachelet opted to confirm Provoste as minister, the opposition Alianza used a constitutional provision to force her removal. Because the PDC expelled a few legislators a few months ago, the Concertacion no longer controls a majority in the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate. Thus, with support from the former Concertacion legislators, the Alianza successfully forced the the minister of education's removal. The bickering had high costs for all those involved. The government knew it would lose the fight, but instead of sacking Provoste, Bachelet decided to carry on with the process, which consumed several precious weeks of the legislative calendar. In addition, the government gave the former Concertacion legislators a perfect excuse to form a working coalition with the Alianza; thus, a new opposition majority has emerged in Congress. For the Alianza, the affair was more costly than beneficial. Although it was able to disturb the Bachelet government and force a minister out, the new 'working majority' will force it to take more populist stances and will allow the Concertacion to question the Alianza's ability to offer a coherent government program for the 2009 election. Because of the accusation, press attention centered on Provoste and not on the investigation of the lax administrative procedures in the ministry of education.With Provoste gone, Bachelet now needs to regain control of the political agenda, but her legislative agenda will have a much tougher time advancing. The Alianza needs to focus on the 2009 election rather than on causing more damage to an already weakened government. And Chileans now have to start worrying about their political elite, which seems much more interested in party bickering than on discussing policies and confronting ideas to face current economic and social challenges."

Guillermo Holzmann is a Professor and Assistant Director of the Public Affairs Institute at the University of Chile.
Jorge Heine is CIGI Professor of Global Governance at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada and a former Chilean Ambassador.
Patricio Navia is a Professor of Political Science at New York University.

No hay comentarios: