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Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle - President of the Republic of Chile

Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, (son of the previous Christian Democrat President Eduardo Frei-Montalva - 1964 to 1970) was born in Santiago on June 24th, 1942. He married Marta Larraechea, a family and juvenile counselor, with whom he had four daughters: Verónica, Cecilia, Magalena and Catalina. He obtained a degree in Civil Engineering with a special mention in Hydraulics from the Universidad de Chile. After graduating, he did a specialization course in Managerial and Technical Administration, in Italy. From 1969 to 1988, Mr. Frei worked privately as an engineer.

He commenced his political life in 1958, when he joined the Partido Demócrata Cristiano. While at university, Mr. Frei became a student leader and accompanied his father on the campaign that would lead him to the Presidency of the Republic in 1964. During the military dictatorship, he was one of the founders and promoters and the Pro Free Election Committee and traveled the country urging people to vote "No" in the October 1988 Plebiscite. On December 14th, 1989, Eduardo Frei was elected Senator for Santiago, with the first national majority ever. He presided over the Treasury and Budgetary Commissions and formed part of the Housing Commission. In 1991, he headed the Citizen Security Commission and the Citizen Violence and Security Commission of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano.

The compromises struck in the 1980 constitutional reform discussions between the military government and the opposition led to the limitation of President Aylwin's term to four years, half of the normal term contemplated in the constitution. This meant that by mid-1992 parties and leaders were already jockeying to prepare the succession. Leaders of the Aylwin government, including prominent cabinet members, made no secret of their desire to put forth the name of Alejandro Foxley Riesco, the minister of finance, as a man who would guarantee stability and continuity. A Christian Democrat, Foxley had presided ably over the delicate task of maintaining economic stability and promoting growth.

Within the CPD, however, there was considerable disagreement over a Foxley candidacy. Christian Democrats controlling the party organization, who had not been favored with prominent governmental positions, pushed the candidacy of Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, the son of the former president, as an alternative. On November 23rd, 1991, the members of the Partido Demócrata Cristiana - by universal ballot-, elected Mr. Frei Party President. Frei's candidacy was given an enormous boost when he succeeded in defeating several Christian Democratic factions, including the Aylwin group, by capturing the presidency of the PDC. In the first open election for party leadership among all registered Christian Democrats, Frei, drawing on the magic of his father's name, scored a stunning victory.

While most observers presumed that from his position as PDC president Frei would be able to command the nomination of the center-left alliance, elements in the Socialist Party and the PPD argued that the nomination in the second government should go to a Socialist, not a Christian Democrat. This was the position of Ricardo Lagos, a minister of public education in the Aylwin cabinet and the most prominent leader of the moderate left. Lagos, who was defeated for a Senate seat in Santiago by the vagaries of the electoral law, remained one of the most popular leaders in Chile and was widely praised for his tenure in the Ministry of Public Education.

A Lagos candidacy, however, implied the serious possibility that the CPD would break up. Christian Democrats pointed to their party's significant advantage in the polls and noted that the country might not be ready for a candidate identified with the Socialist Party. Lagos faced opposition within the PPD and the Socialist Party among leaders who thought that risking the unity of the CPD could only play into the hands of forces that would welcome a victory of the right or an authoritarian reversal. Lagos, in turn, argued that the Socialists could be relegated to the position of a permanent minority force within the coalition if they did not have the opportunity to present their own candidate. The constitutional provision for a second electoral round, in case no candidate obtained an absolute majority in the first round, would permit the holding of a kind of primary. The CPD candidate that failed to go into the second round of the two finalists would simply support the CPD counterpart.

Lagos, however, was not able to persuade either the Christian Democrats or his own allies to launch two center-left presidential candidacies spearheading one joint list for congressional seats. Instead, he had to settle for a national convention in which Frei handily defeated him with his greater organizational strength. On May 23rd, 1993, Eduardo Frei received 64 percent of the vote in the internal Concertation elections, and was officially proclaimed presidential candidate on May 30th. On December 11th, 1993, he was elected President of the Republic with 57.99 percent of the vote.

The right had even more difficulty coming up with a standardbearer. The National Renewal party was intent on imposing its own candidacy this time and sought to elevate one of its younger leaders to carry the torch. Bitter opposition for the UDI and the destructive internal struggle within the National Renewal party precluded Chile's largest party on the right from selecting the standard-bearer of the coalition. After a bitter and highly destructive process, the parties of the right, including the UCC, finally were able to structure a joint congressional list and turn to Arturo Alessandri Besa, a senator and businessman, as presidential candidate.

Several other candidates were presented by minor parties. The PCCh, which had reluctantly supported Aylwin in 1989, endorsed leftist priest Eugenio Pizarro Poblete, while scientist Manfredo Max-Neef ran a quixotic campaign stressing environmental issues. In the election held on December 11, 1993, Eduardo Frei scored an impressive victory, exceeding the total that Aylwin obtained in 1989. Frei's victory underscored the strong support of the CPD's overall policies, bucking the Latin American trend of failed incumbent governments. Frei obtained 57.4 percent of the vote to Alessandri's 24.7 percent (see table 42, Appendix). The surprise in the race was Max-Neef, who, exceeding all expectations, obtained 5.7 percent of the vote, surpassing the vote for Pizarro, which was 4.6 percent. Max-Neef was able to translate his shoestring candidacy into the most significant protest vote against the major candidates.

On March 11th, 1994, Frei assumed the Presidency of the Republic of Chile for a period of six years. The election of the fifty-one-year-old Frei marked the coming of age of a new generation of political leaders in Chile. Frei, an engineer and businessman, had avoided the political world of his father until the late 1980s when he agreed to form part of the Committee for Free Elections. Subsequently, his party faction challenged Aylwin for the leadership of the party prior to the 1989 election. Although Frei lost, he laid the groundwork for his successful bid for party leadership in 1992 and, eventually, the race for president.

Frei's election signalled the intention of the CPD to remain united in a coalition government for the foreseeable future. The designation of Socialist Party president Germán Correa as minister of interior and Ricardo Lagos's acceptance of another cabinet post underscore the broad nature of the regime. Its challenge, however, will be to maintain unity while addressing many of the lingering social issues that still affect Chilean society without upsetting the country's economic progress.

The Concertación coalition had governed Chile continuously since the transition to democracy and has undergone few changes. The coalition was composed of the PDC, the PPD, the Socialist Party (PS), which officially began contesting elections as a part of the Concertación in 1993, and the Radical Social Democratic Party (PRSD), which was created through a merger of the PR and PSD in 1994. Since March of 1990, Chile had been under civilian rule, starting with Patricio Aylwin [1990-994]. Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle of the PDC was elected president in 1993, followed by Ricardo Lagos of the PPD in 1999, and Michelle Bachelet of the PS in 2006. Although both Aylwin and Frei were elected directly by the voters, some scholars argued that Chile had not consolidated its democracy, due in large measure to the continuing influence and prerogatives of the Chilean military.

Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, Aylwin's successor, was more successful in strengthening the government in relation to the military, and has gained widespread popular support in the process. The degree of support he received indicated that the degree of informal influence coming from the prestige and popularity of the military was not that great. Frei won the election by an impressive margin ~ 58 percent of the vote ~ on a platform of reducing military power and increasing civilian authority. A year and ahalf after taking office, he submitted a series of sweeping changes to the constitution that would greatly reduce the effects of Pinochet's safeguards. Among the changes were the elimination of the right-wing designated senators and a restructuring of the national Security Council that would greatly increase civilian participation. The inclusion of civilians in the Security Council decreased the military's formal authority by reducing its relative level of authority within the government, and decreases its relative unity. The important thing to note in these changes, however, is that 60 percent of the population favored these changes, as shown in public opinion polls.

During the 1990s, the coalition governments of President Patricio Aylwin (1990 to 1994) and President Frei Ruiz-Tagle (1994 to 2000), sought to provide stability and economic growth to Chile. Both administrations attempted to construct a wide consensus around free-market economic principles including respect for private property, the limited role of the government in economic affairs, free trade, open and fair competition and sound fiscal policies. The government attributes economic growth during this period primarily to increases in investment as well as exports, with a focus on diversifying exports away from copper.

Beginning in 1990, the administrations of President Aylwin and President Frei modified the government's policy towards privatizations, increasing transparency in the process. Since the previous administration had already undertaken a large-scale program of privatizations to reduce the overall size of the public sector, the government of President Aylwin decided to analyze future privatizations on a case-by-case basis, and in certain limited cases, to retain an interest in the privatized companies. As of November 2002, there had been 19 principal privatizations since 1990 in different sectors, including sanitation, power utility and transportation. These privatizations resulted in approximately US$2.6 billion in proceeds to the government. After completing a series of important privatizations in the 1990s, the government does not anticipate additional privatizations of major state-owned companies.

In December 1999, with the support of the Concertacion coalition, Ricardo Lagos, a member of the Socialist Party, was elected to the presidency for a six-year term. He took office on March 11, 2000. On 13 December 2009, in free and fair elections voters chose Sebastian Pinera Echenique of the center-right Coalition for Change and Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle of the center-left Concertacion coalition as the two presidential candidates for a runoff election scheduled for January 17, 2010. Sebastian Piñera was at the time of the election a member of the National Renewal Party (Renovación Nacional – RN). Mr. Piñera resigned from RN prior to being sworn in as President on March 11, 2010, having won the 2010 presidential elections with the support of the center-right Coalición por el Cambio alliance.

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Page last modified: 04-12-2012 19:01:36 ZULU