Pinera considered favorite to succeed bachelet

Pinera considered favorite to succeed bachelet

In any case, Chileans know what to expect: The challenger to the head of government has also been at the helm before. Neither could solve the indigenous conflict. Even a papal visit could fuel it.

If the polls are right, there will still be no winner in Chile on Sunday. Although conservative businessman and billionaire Sebastian Pinera (67), who governed the Andean nation from 2010 to 2014, is the favorite to win the election, he is unlikely to achieve an absolute majority. Whether he will achieve the necessary absolute majority in the first round of voting, however, is questionable. If Pinera wins in the first or second round of voting in December, a curious interplay would be perfect. Pinera would then succeed Michelle Bachelet for the second time, who governed Chile from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018. The Chilean catch prohibits a renewed candidacy of the politician afterwards.

Tense relationship with indigenous minority

In any case, she will still host Pope Francis in January during his trip to Chile, because the handover of office will not take place until a few weeks later. No matter who succeeds Bachelet, one problem will persist beyond the 2017 campaign: The conflict with the Mapuche. For months, the situation in Chile has been tense because of disputes with the indigenous minority. Church facilities in particular have repeatedly been the target of arson attacks. Behind this are said to be radical Mapuche who believe the Catholic Church is on the side of their oppressors.

Just a few days ago, four hooded men stopped a regional bus in the troubled province of La Araucania, chased away the driver and then set the vehicle ablaze. Two confession notes at the scene point to the perpetrators: "Fire for the churches, you are not welcome in La Araucania, Pope Francis" and "Freedom for Daniel Melinao and the Mapuche prisoners – politicians out" were written on the handwritten notes. Pinera, who staged himself as a law-and-order man in the election campaign, calls for the "complete restoration of the rule of law". He also presented an immediate program called "Araucania 2".0" to get the situation back under control.

No clear line from the head of government

For her part, Bachelet, who plummeted in the polls while in office, has sought to end the problem. At times the left-liberal politician played the hardliner, determined to take action against the arsonists, then she sought direct talks. "We will fight the violence. We will not tolerate minorities who do not value dialogue and the great efforts that all the actors of the southern regions are making to bring about development and overcome exclusion," Bachelet said just a few weeks ago after a new devastating arson attack.

Only a few weeks earlier, Bachelet had apologized for the historical injustice done to the Mapuche in recent history and invited them to a dialogue. But the fronts remain hardened. Whether the hard line of a possible election winner Pinera, of all things, can break the ice remains to be seen.

The Mapuche are the indigenous people in the south of Chile and Argentina. After Chilean independence in 1818, disenfranchisement began in the 1860s: army invasion, expropriation, decline of the nation’s own tradition and language. Only in the last few years has there been a renewed focus on the Mapuche culture and identity. A small minority becomes politically radicalized. Mapuche are among the poorest and least educated segment of the population.

Criticism of papal visit

A recent survey by the radio station "Cooperativa" and the opinion research institute "Imaginaccion" on the upcoming visit of Pope Francis also shows how much the Chileans are concerned about this topic. The eagerly awaited visit of Francis to the troubled province of La Araucania is viewed critically by those interviewed. Some 85 percent believe the pope’s visit could fuel the conflict, with just under 12 percent convinced Francis’ presence could help defuse the crisis. On 17. January he is expected in the provincial capital Temuco. Then Bachelet’s successor is already in place. The Chilean public as well as the new head of government will be all the more eager to hear the pope’s words on the Mapuche conflict.

Tobias Buyer

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