Monday, 16 December 2013

Chilean students intimidate politicians

Michelle Bachelet is president of Chile again after winning a hefty 62% victory over the right-wing candidate, the daughter of a former member of Pinochet’s junta. The margin was comfortable although not as impressive as it looks given the utter ridiculousness of the opposition.

What’s really curious is that Bachelet’s victory speech promptly endorsed the central demands of the years-long student mobilization: to get university education away from the profiteers:

There is no question about it: profits can't be the motor behind education because education isn't merchandise and because dreams aren't a consumer good.

Bachelet did not talk that way when she was first elected president eight years ago. There is one and only one reason why this statement was so prominent in the hours following the vote: the Chilean political class is desperate to find a solution to the problem because the kids won't let them off the hook. They have mercilessly harassed the authorities over their lousy and expensive degrees that lead to lousy and underpaid jobs. And they promise to do the same to whoever comes along to replaces them.

The details will be highly contested, without a doubt (the profiteers in question have been happily tolerated by Bachelet’s party and its partners for years), but the fact that an extra-parliamentary movement has imposed its agenda is highly significant. It’s a lesson for people who remain determined to worry about who gets elected.

Well over 50% of the Chilean electorate refused to go vote at all now that voting is no longer compulsory. Hackers immediately dove into the Education Ministry’s website and warned the ‘Señora Presidente’ that they planned to make her life miserable.

The young people who have been on the streets more or less permanently during the term of the outgoing president, Sebastián Piñera, did not sit around worrying whether the pinochetista candidates were worse than the nominal socialists. No doubt they had people in their ranks accusing them of facilitating reaction by refusing to play the electoral game, just as we regularly get blackmailed into rushing out to support the latest lame Democrat who pretends to not be a Republican and then, once elected, busily enacts the GOP program.

How curious that the radical Chilean students have achieved not only a progressive-sounding president but one that had better actually do something about their demands. And all that without even bothering to vote.

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