Nueva Mayoría’s parliamentary majority a vote shy of education reform

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Published On : Tue, Nov 19th, 2013

Having secured a majority for tax reform, Bachelet some way from constitutional reform and will need to lobby newly elected independent deputies to change education.

Nueva Mayoría’s parliamentary majority a vote shy of education reform

The Neuva Mayoría won a significant congressional majority but will have to compromise to achieve key reforms. Michelle Bachelet / Facebook

The Nueva Mayoría pact enjoyed a comparatively successful parliamentary election Sunday, securing a 55.3 percent majority in the Senate and a 56.6 percent majority in the Chamber of Deputies — enough to push through changes to the tax system and a vote shy of the majority necessary to pass education reform in both houses.

With its presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet the firm favorite to win Dec. 15’s runoff election, the left-leaning Nueva Mayoría will now go about attempting to secure the support of parliamentarians outside of the pact that advocate free education and the various other structural reforms it has campaigned on this election season.

The pact won 68 out of 120 deputy seats and 21 of the available 38 senate spots, taking it above the 50 percent majority needed to change the tax system and one seat short in either house of the 57 percent majority necessary to reform the education system. To enact changes to the Constitution a 66 percent majority is needed, while electoral reform requires 60 percent.

Kenneth Bunker, political scientist at Universidad Diego Portales, believes Bachelet’s best chance of obtaining educational reform is in gaining the support of former heads of university federations and student movement leaders newly elected to the Chamber of Deputies. Unlike deputy-elects and one-time student leaders Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola of the Communist Party (PC), election winners Giorgio Jackson of the Democratic Revolution (RD) and Gabriel Boric of the Autonomous Left (IA) chose not to align themselves with the Nueva Mayoría and remain independent. Boric, former president of the Universidad de Chile’s student federation (FECh) won his deputy seat against a Nueva Mayoría candidate, and former Universidad Católica federation (FEUC) leader Jackson refused to join forces with Bachelet despite the Nueva Mayoría’s decision to not field a candidate against him.

“Bachelet is really close to the four-sevenths of the vote needed to implement educational reform with 68 of the 69 deputy votes and 21 of the 22 senatorial votes already registered,” he told The Santiago Times. “She will be looking to win the support of deputies Giorgio Jackson, Gabriel Boric and Sen. Carlos Bianchi. If she can convince these three to join her coalition then in all likelihood she will be able to enact educational reform.”

According to Bunker, winning the support of independent Bianchi, who stands outside the Nueva Mayoría pact and the right-leaning Alianza coalition, may prove more difficult than that of Jackson and Boric.

“Bachelet might target Bianchi as he is independent, but he can be a little rogue and may prove harder to discipline so she might not get his vote,” Bunker said. “She might also try Antonio Horvath, a [right-leaning] National Renewal [RN] senator who endorsed [independent presidential candidate Franco] Parisi. On the other hand, as both Jackson and Boric veer more to the left than Bachelet, they will be keen for educational reform.”

With the PS winning six extra seats in Congress, and the PC doubling its representation from three to six, the Nueva Mayoría has been strengthened significantly. Furthermore, the four student leaders elected all have agendas that favor the left. Conversely, the far-right Independent Democratic Union (UDI) lost nine seats, from 46 to 37.

However, Peter Siavelis, political scientist and director of Latin American studies at Wake Forest University, feels Bachelet may struggle to compromise with the newly elected independent deputies while maintaining the backing of the more moderate members of the Nueva Mayoría pact.

“There is a huge irony here because she didn’t get the two-thirds she needs for constitutional reform, she didn’t get the three-fifths she needs reforming the binomial system and she narrowly missed out on educational reform,” he told The Santiago Times. “What’s interesting is that the leaders she needs to depend on for educational reform are likely to be radical and absolutist, so she may lose them precisely on the educational reform proposal because they are going to hold out for significant changes on the educational system.”

This analysis was backed up somewhat in Giorgio Jackson’s acceptance speech after gaining 46 percent of the vote in Santiago Centro.

“Today is very good news for social movements. We must dare to operate without owing favors to whoever controls parliament,” he said.

Siavelis also thinks that the new deputies will demand educational reform instantly, something that is likely to put Bachelet in a tricky position.

“The four deputies [and former student leaders] have made it very clear they want educational reform straight away — it’s going to take a while — at least a year to draft the legislation, write it and it and then pass it through Congress. I’m not sure they are willing to wait that long,” he said.

Bachelet is almost certain to become president for the second time following the run-off election, but the possibility remains she will find herself in an unenviable position, sandwiched between making compromises with independent deputies, whose support needs, and the demands of more moderate Nueva Mayoría members.

“I think she will be walking a thin line if she comes into power,” Siavelis said. “There will be people on the streets screaming for reform and an institutional structure preventing Bachelet from delivering her promises.”

By George Nelson (nelson@santiagotimes.cl)
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times

About the Author

George Nelson
George is the Deputy Editor of The Santiago Times and writes on social issues, art, and sport. He has worked as a freelance reporter in the U.S., UK, and Argentina for publications including the Buenos Aires Herald, Argentina Independent, and Vice. Contact him at nelson@santiagotimes.cl