Chile’s President-elect Michelle Bachelet ended weeks of speculation about the composition of her Cabinet as she prepares to re-take the presidency on March 11 following her overwhelming win with her New Majority coalition in December 2013. Three ministries will be crucial if Bachelet is to keep her education reform program: Education, Finance and Interior.
The 23-person Cabinet includes nine women and 14 men: The portfolios of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Finance and Economy will be handled by Rodrigo Peñailillo, Heraldo Muñoz, Jorge Burgos, Alberto Arenas and Luis Felipe Céspedes.
Chile’s particularly sensitive Education ministry has been given to former Finance minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre, who must implement Bachelet’s campaign promise of free tuition for 70% of students from low-income households within the next four years and free education in the following six years.
President Sebastián Piñera has been plagued by education problems and his administration has claimed many Education ministers unable to meet societal demands for improvements in the access, quality and cost of education in Chile.
The split of political appointments left the following balance of power: Six ministries for the Democracy Party (Partido por la Democracia, PPD), five for the Christian Democrats (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, DC), one for the Communist Party (Partido Comunista, PC), two for the Radical Party (Partido Radical, PR), three for the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS), one for the Christian Left (Izquierda Cristiana, IC) and five independents.
The haggling for ministries was the first test of unity of Bachelet’s New Majority coalition following the successful elections and internal fissures were visible. Chilean media have reported that the Christian Democrats had been uncomfortable with an initial offer made by Bachelet which included four to five ministries, of which two would be held by independents. The DC rejected this offer as “unfriendly” and complained that the DC would find itself losing out to the Socialists, Communists and the PPD in the Cabinet. The DC is the most centrist component within the left-leaning New Majority coalition.
Further negotiations gave the DC the Defense portfolio and they have declared themselves to be well-represented in the new Cabinet.
Also of note was the naming of Claudia Pascual to the Women’s National Service. Pascual thus becomes the first Communist Party minister in Chile since 1973, when Salvador Allende’s government was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet.
Finance Minister Alberto Arenas (PS) will have to craftily raise an estimated 8.2 billion dollars in taxes in the next five years to help finance Bachelet’s ambitious programs.
Bachelet’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo of the PPD, is seen as one of her closest associates and lead the campaign for her re-election. Peñailillo will have be politically responsible for Chile’s police and has been entrusted with handling demonstrations promised by university students and the likely opposition to ambitious transformational platform. The long-running Mapuche Indian dispute will also fall under his remit.