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Chile's Bachelet names her cabinet.

Tuesday, January 31st 2006 - 20:00 UTC
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President-elect Michelle Bachelet officially announced 20 cabinet members early Monday evening, naming a mix of old and new political leaders ? 10 men and 10 women - to head the various ministerial posts in her government.

"This is a historic step in matters relating to equality, because there are even numbers of both men and women," said Bachelet.

The two most important positions, that of Interior Minister and Foreign Minister, went to former Christian Democratic senators Andrés Zaldivar and Alejandro Foxley, respectively. Both are part of Chile's "old guard" political establishment.

But a fresh new face - Harvard educated economist Andrés Velasco - was named Finance Minister, while two key communications posts, Secretary General to the President and Secretary General to the Government, also went to younger individuals: Paulina Veloso and Ricardo Lagos Weber, respectively.

Vivianne Blanlot, an old-timer recycled from President Eduardo Frei's government (1994-2000), was named Defense Minister, and Matin Zilic was named Education Minister. Isidro Solis was appointed Justice Minister and Ingrid Antonijevic is the new minister of Economy, Development and Reconstruction.

The Public Works Ministry will be led by Eduardo Britán, while Sergio Espejo will lead the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications. Maria Soledad Barriga is the new Health Minister, while the Housing Ministry and the Ministry of National Properties will be led by Patricia Poblete and Romy Schmidt, respectively. Karen Poniachik is the new Mining Minister, Laura Albornoz the new Director of Women's Services, and Paulina Urrutia the new Minister for Cultural affairs.

In sum, a mix of the old and the new, much as analysts had anticipated and completely in line with Bachelet's declared intentions.

Two more cabinet level appointments are yet to be made ? for the new environmental and public security ministries ? because the ministries have not yet been officially created.

Bachelet's aim was to create a cabinet that satisfies the political demands made by the four-party Concertación coalition that helped put her in power, allowing each party cabinet posts to best profile their respective leaders. These positions are coveted by the four parties - the Christian Democrats (DC), the Socialists (PS), the Party for Democracy (PPD) and the Radical Party (PRSD).

While the word "quota" is officially taboo, it is fair to say that ever since Chile began its transition to democracy in 1990, every president has tried to respond ? equitably - to the demands of the parties that helped put them in power by appointing their leaders to cabinet level positions. Indeed, Bachelet herself first came to the public's attention in 2000 when appointed Health Minister by President Ricardo Lagos in an effort to meet Socialist Party demands for cabinet level representation.

In her appointments Monday, the President-elect was also trying to deliver on her two best known campaign pledges: to make her cabinet half male and half female; and to bring new faces into leadership positions. She succeeded on both counts.

This second vow was made early in her presidential campaign when she said "there will be no one eating from the same plate twice" in her administration. The pledge implied that Concertación leaders accustomed to holding ministerial positions in the previous Concertación governments should not expect to receive appointments in the Bachelet administration.

The pledge helped spur Bachelet's popularity as a candidate because, in fact, the public had tired of the "musical chairs" phenomena that characterized the past 16 years of Concertación-led government, with certain faces popping up repeatedly in the three successive Concertación administrations. The promise also hinted of the generational change that Bachelet campaign represented in many people's minds, and of an independent executive less beholden to the four political parties.

But when Bachelet was forced into a run-off election against rightist candidate Sebastián Piñera, she relied heavily on the logistical support provided by the Concertación coalition and enlisted the help of several of its best known, time-tested political leaders: Andrés Zaldivar, a Christian Democrat and former President of the Senate; Alejandro Foxley, a former Finance Minister under President Patricio Aylwin and a former Christian Democratic senator; and Sergio Bitar, a former senator and founding member of the Party for Democracy (PPD), who stepped down as Education Minister to involve himself with Bachelet's run-off campaign. Because Zaldivar, Foxley and Bitar were well-known and very moderate Concertación leaders, it was believed they not only could give her campaign legitimacy, but could also help convince male voters, especially Christian Democrats, to support a woman for president.

Bachelet's reliance on the "good old boys" in the Concertación coalition necessarily compromised her commitment to seek out new faces, so towards the end of her presidential run-off race she clarified her earlier pledge, saying that none of the older leaders would assume "the same" positions they had held in previous governments. And with this newly defined wiggle room, she left the door open for appointments of men like Zaldivar and Foxley.

The appointments of Zaldivar and Foxley are especially noteworthy for several reasons. First, because they are perhaps the nation's best known Christian Democratic Party leaders, after former President Eduardo Frei.

Second, because both are "above the fray" that is currently engulfing the Christian Democratic Party, now split into at least two warring camps on the eve of internal DC party elections set for March. This is important, because both sides of the DC split are demanding representation in Bachelet's cabinet.

And finally, the appointment of two Christian Democrats to top positions has great historic import, especially since the DC's support is absolutely necessary if Bachelet, a Socialist Party activist with strong ties to the left's "old school," is to successfully govern. Here there is much historical baggage in play, as when the DC withdrew its support of Salvador Allende (also a Socialist and a doctor like Bachelet) in 1973, helping open the door for the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup. With Zaldivar and Foxley serving as Bachelet's top lieutenants, at least one of history's lessons appears to have been learned.

Bachelet's moderate political stances, a faint but glimmering echo of Allende's rhetoric, suggest that she has learned from history, too.

Steve Anderson - The Santiago Times - News about Chile

Categories: Mercosur.

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