For the first time in half a century a right wing Deputy will become speaker of the Chilean Lower House following an agreement between the ruling coalition and the opposition conservative alliance.
According to the deal worked out last week this means that as of next March a Socialist will be president of the Lower House, his first vice president will be a member of a junior partner of the ruling coalition and the second vice president from the right wing alliance. The following March 2009, and the last year of President Michelle Bachelet's government, right wing members will hold the presidency and first vice presidency of the Lower House and a Socialist the second vicepresidency. The agreement also included the standing committees, 10 for the ruling coalition and 8 for the conservative opposition, and the special committees, 6 and 5, leaving aside dissident members from the coalition that were in the process of a similar negotiation. However the dissidents did manage, last week, to successfully cut a bargain with the conservatives in the Senate meaning that for the first time since the return of democracy the ruling coalition will not hold a seat in the Upper house presidency. The last time a right wing was named president of the Chilean Lower House was in 1957/58 with Conservative member Hector Correa Letelier. Since then the post had been in the hands of left centre Radicals and Christian democrats, and with the return of democracy with the ruling Concertacion. But the agreement left injuries among government and opposition members. The two main opposition groups only managed to agree at last moment to jump into the agreement wagon with the argument it was "less bad" than leaving the whole stage to the ruling coalition. However relations are more strained among Socialists, and among Socialists and junior coalition partners who felt left out of the negotiations, some of which are demanding apologies and others simply won't accept, on principle, making deals with the "extreme right" opposition. The same happened with the dissidents or independents (colorines in Chilean political jargon) that left the ruling coalition and have been successful in sharing the Senate presidency with the conservative opposition. They were hopeful of a similar deal in the Lower House but it fell through. In practical terms this translates into having both Congress houses under conservative presidents in 2009, presidential election year, and when for the first time in two decades conservatives will have an excellent chance of reaching government given the fatigue and disarray of the ruling coalition.