Chile's Interior Minister Belisario Velasco admitted that the expulsion from the Christian Democrat (DC) party of Senator Adolfo Zaldívar signals a new scenario for the Chilean Congress since the ruling coalition no longer has a majority in the Senate.
Senator Adolfo Zaldívar was removed this week from the DC due to statements that he had made at a board of directors meeting, led by Soledad Alvear, related to an alleged "corruption culture" inside the ruling coalition and for his decision not to support further financing of a controversial transport system for Chile's capital Santiago which so has far proved a complete failure. On this second issue he was accused of acting in collusion with the opposition. "As a minister representing DC and a member of government I must point out the decision was taken by the specific body of the party which regulates those issues, and therefore the government nor its officials are going to comment about it", cabinet chief Velasco told the press at Government House. He added that "it's now clear that Concertacion (ruling coalition) no longer has the majority (20 votes) in the Senate which it had at the beginning of the current administration" and which was evident in several crucial votes during 2007. "We have two votes less, this is a fact and we must act and program on the basis of that reality", said Velasco who was referring to another case, Senator Fernando Flores from the small party PPD who resigned following a strong division inside his political grouping. The new situation will force the President Michelle Bachelet administration to intensify contacts with the opposition. "In democracy you always have to dialogue with (opposition) Alianza because there are many bills which need special majorities for approval, such as those referred to security, education and reforming the pensions' scheme", said Velasco. "Permanent good relations with the opposition are part of the rules of the game, besides the fact that we must acknowledge that some opposition legislators have helped with drafts that have become legislation". Senator Zaldívar who has been a member of the DC for over forty years (and presidential hopeful on several occasions) received on the following morning of his removal various gestures of support from his party and from the opposition. A former opposition presidential candidate Joaquín Lavín spent a couple of hours with Zaldívar who later received Senator Fernando Flores, leader of the ChilePrimero Party with another supporting member of the movement, Jorge Schaulsohn. Schaulsohn had been expelled from the PPD after accusing inside members of the Concertación of having an "ideology of corruption". Velasco avoided replying about the possibility that members from the Lower House who are aligned behind Senator Zaldívar might decide to abandon the DC and form a new political grouping. Santiago political analysts believe that the deep division inside the center right DC and the removal of one of the conservative icons of the party could imperil the ruling coalition's presidential chances in 2009. The Socialist-DC coalition under the Concertacion umbrella has ruled Chile since 1990 when the return of democracy, but the more conservative wing of DC has become growingly restless about some of the government's policies.