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Date: Sun, 12 Dec 1999 18:04:18 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: ELECTIONS-CHILE: Lagos, Modern-Day Heir to Allende's Socialism
Organization: ?
Article: 84470
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.2645.19991213121600@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.


Lagos, Modern-day heir to Allende's Socialism

By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS
9 December 1999

SANTIAGO, Dec 9 (IPS) - Ricardo Lagos hopes to become the second Socialist president in the history of Chile, but in a context that has little to do with the one in which the late Salvador Allende was elected in 1970.

If Lagos, the front-runner in the polls, wins the presidential elections, the first - and perhaps only - round of which takes place Sunday, his would be the third Coalition for Democracy administration, after those headed by Christian Democrats Patricio Aylwin (1990-94) and Eduardo Frei (1994-2000).

The 61-year-old lawyer and economist broke the Christian Democratic Party's hold over the ruling coalition in the May 30 primaries, beating out that party's hopeful, Andrés Zaldívar, with more than 71 percent of the vote.

Lagos thus became the candidate of the alliance formed by the parties known as the "democratic opposition" in the early 1980s, under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-90).

Today, the centre-left coalition is comprised of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the Socialist Party (PS), the Party for Democracy and the Radical Social Democratic Party. The Communist Party (PC) is not part of the alliance.

"I was a supporter of Allende, and am proud of it. But today's historical conditions are different," says Lagos, who objects to his candidacy being likened to the Popular Unity (UP), the coalition made up of the PS, PC and other leftist currents, at the head of which Allende governed until he was overthrown by Pinochet in a coup during which he died, refusing to flee the country.

In the campaign, Lagos has not only had to fight against the right and against conservative sectors of the PDC, which have insistently raised the "spectre of the UP," but has also had to fight against the wear-and-tear that the ruling coalition has suffered after 10 years in power.

The impact of the international financial crisis at the end of Frei's six-year term led to a rise in apathy among today's youth, and a loss of support for the governing coalition, on either end of the spectrum.

The right-wing candidate, Joaquín Lavín, with his youthful image and promises of change, will give Lagos a tough run for his money, according to opinion polls.

Meanwhile, PC secretary-general and presidential candidate Gladys Marín has drawn support away from the governing coalition among voters farther to the left.

Analysts say Lagos is unlikely to obtain an absolute majority of votes on Sunday, which means he will face off with Lavín in a second round of voting on Jan 16.

The race is expected to be the tightest since Allende defeated conservative candidate Jorge Alessandri and Christian Democratic candidate Radomiro Tomic in 1970.

Lagos' opinion poll ratings stood at 48 percent Tuesday, compared to Lavín's 41 percent and Marín's seven percent.

The ruling coalition candidate is counting on voters identifying Lavín - despite his attempts to distance himself from the country's dictatorial past - with Pinochet, who even while in custody in Britain as a result of an extradition request from Spain has continued to polarise Chile, where polls indicate that 60 percent of the population rejects him.

Marín, as well as two other progressive candidates - humanist Tomás Hirsch (with 2.5 percent poll ratings) and ecologist Sara Larraín (0.4 percent) - have already announced they will not support Lagos in an eventual runoff, saying they refuse to back a continuation of the neo-liberal economic model.

But analysts say their voters will largely come out in favour of Lagos.

The socialist candidate has not expressed interest in negotiating with Marín, Hirsch and Larraín, while he refutes those who describe his platform, based on growth with equality, as "neo- liberal."

The key elements of Lagos' platform are equity, social justice, modernisation, the strengthening of education and the deepening of democracy.

Lagos, a former education and public works minister, personifies the controversial modern-day socialism which since the late 1970s has moved gradually away from the tenets of Marxism- Leninism, while embracing multi-party politics and representative democracy, as well as the free market.

Lagos served as an adviser to Allende, while holding the post of secretary-general of the country's leading university, the University of Chile. After the 1973 coup, Lagos, who has a doctorate in economy from Duke University, pursued post-graduate studies in the United States, and served as a senior official in the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

In 1983 and 1984 he was president of the Democratic Alliance, the germ of today's ruling coalition, and in 1987 founded the Party for Democracy, conceived of as a front for the PS and other movements banned by the dictatorship.

Lagos shot into the limelight on Apr 25, 1988, when on a popular TV show he pointed his finger at the screen, demanding that Pinochet put an end to the military regime.

His rival, Lavín, had not yet turned 20 at the time of the coup. But he already identified himself with "gremialismo", a neo-conservative movement that provided the dictatorship with ideological substance.

With a masters degree in economics from the University of Chicago, Lavín became dean of the faculty of economy in the University of Concepción, 215 kms south of Santiago, at age 26.

During the dictatorship he also served as a high-level official in the Office of National Planning, and helped found the right- wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party.

In the later stages of the de facto regime, Lavín wrote books praising the dictatorship's economic policy, which sold by the dozens to government agencies.

Neither his membership in the ultra-conservative Opus Dei nor his past as a government official under Pinochet have been mentioned during the campaign.

Also absent from his platform are the pending issues of the transition to democracy, such as authoritarian laws and constitutional clauses, holdovers from the dictatorship, and thousands of pending cases of human rights violations.

In 1992, Lavín was elected mayor of the posh Santiago neighbourhood of Las Condes, where he organised consultations in which local residents set their own priorities for spending municipal funds.

His 1996 reelection with 78.5 percent of the vote set a new record in local elections in Chile.

But the right-wing candidate's opponents wonder whether he would have been as effective at the head of one of the country's hundreds of impoverished districts, rather than of Las Condes, the most powerful municipality in Chile.

Lavín's opponents criticise him for putting the installation of a stoplight up to plebiscite, while rejecting the use of that mechanism to allow voters to decide whether or not to amend the constitution put into effect by Pinochet.

During the campaign, he has refused to discuss Pinochet, arguing that Chile is not interested in dredging up the past. In the end, no one benefited more from Pinochet's October 1998 arrest in London, which allowed the right-wing candidate to largely evade the issue of the dictatorship.

After a major drive to collect suggestions by telephone, e-mail and door-to-door visits, Lavín drew up a list of 60 solutions to what he found to be the country's most pressing problems, such as drug use, crime, public safety, health services and education. He also promises to create 100,000 jobs in his first year in office, and one million throughout his six-year term.


(END/IPS/tra-

Origin: Montevideo/ELECTIONS-CHILE/

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