Constitutional Process OPINION

The Bachelet factor

The reappearance of former president Michelle Bachelet caused a bit of a stir. She unequivocally declared support for the new constitutional proposal. The polls, too, suggest she is a factor to be reckoned with.

Former president Michelle Bachelet reappeared on the stage of Chilean politics. Unequivocally supporting the Apruebo (approve) option in the constitutional plebiscite slated for Sept. 4, she paraphrased Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanés, saying, “it is not perfect but closer to what I always dreamed of.”

Her words resonated well among Apruebo supporters, and, of course, with President Gabriel Boric. Until that day, the trend in the polls clearly favored the Rechazo (reject) option, promoted by the right and some leaders of the former Concertación government coalition.

What’s Special About Bachelet

Bachelet became the first former president to state her support for Apruebo. Earlier, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei said he will vote Rechazo, while former president Ricardo Lagos was ambiguous, just advocating for deep reforms no matter the plebiscite result.

Bachelet played it bold and cool. Her choice sparked public debate, most notably about the Apruebo option. Moreover, after several months in which Rechazo supporters celebrated, sometimes euphorically, Bachelet also rekindled hope on one side and set off the alarm on the other. That’s not a minor thing.

We enter the final stage of the campaign, so the emotional factor will become key. During her presidential terms, Bachelet created an emotional connection with her supporters, even leading some to call her the mother of Chile.

She proved that she could help rescue the Apruebo campaign, as many adherents seemed to have resigned to defeat already.

Bachelet is loved and respected. She uses simple, didactic language, appeals to women – more than half of the electorate – and gets excited and laughs easily. But most importantly, people believe her.

Government Influence

In addition to reinvigorating the Apruebo campaign, she also brought fresh air to the government and was received enthusiastically by Boric. He visited her at her home in Santiago’s La Reina district. If the objective was to change the political debate, the duo succeeded.

Boric and Bachelet formed a relationship in the second election round in December 2021, when the latter supported Boric, even though she knew this support would elicit ferocious criticism from the right, because as UN human rights chief she is expected to stay out of local electoral politics. Still, her support was key to rally voters of her former coalitions behind Boric.

Bachelet continued her support even after Boric assumed office, making her confidantes and foundation available. In turn, Boric incorporated six center-left figures that were close to Bachelet into his administration, although he used to criticize the center-left for years for administrating rather than changing the socio-economic model. In recent months he has added three direct advisors from the Bachelet circle.

Boric knows that the constitutional process will continue regardless of the result in the plebiscite, so what better ally than Bachelet?

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