SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- Chile's Communists, who got a small but
vital 3.2 percent in Sunday's election, called on government presidential
candidate Ricardo Lagos to adopt leftist policies if he wants their support in
January's runoff vote.
Communist Party leader Gladys Marin blamed the center-left Concertacion
coalition which has ruled Chile since the return of democracy in 1990 for
adopting free-market "neo-liberal" policies and allowing the rise of right-wing
candidate Joaquin Lavin.
Marin's few voters are crucial to Lagos if he is to clinch victory from
once a media advisor to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto
Pinochet, in the second round election on Jan. 16.
Lagos got 48 percent of the votes in Sunday's election and finished less
half a percentage point ahead of Lavin who delivered the best-ever
performance by a right-wing candidate in Chilean history.
"We are not calling for people to vote for the lesser evil. We're not calling
people to back the Concertacion candidate. We are saying that here we've
got a tie between two sides of the same coin -- neoliberalism," said Marin.
Marin called on Lagos to promise policies including better conditions for
workers and a more determined effort to modify the constitution put in place
by Pinochet which helps give right-wing parties a disproportionate
representation in Congress.
But it will be difficult for Lagos, 61, a lawyer and economist who once
supported the extreme-left government of socialist President Salvador
Allende, to be seen to be currying favor with the Communists without
scaring off centrist voters.
COMMUNIST PARTY TO DELIBERATE STRATEGY
Marin said the Concertacion Party had not tried to contact her. The
Communist Party plans a meeting with its rank and file Sunday to deliberate
strategy for the second round.
Lagos now favors free-market policies which have made Chile South
America's best-performing economy in the last two decades.
Lavin, 46, has similarly distanced himself from Pinochet and even the
right-wing UDI party of which he is a member. He declares himself to above
party politics and interested only in managing the country like a well-run
Ironically, this strategy has been helped by the old general's arrest in
last year, keeping him safely distant from the political stage as Lavin
campaigns. Pinochet, 84, is under house arrest in a mansion near London as
he battles extradition to Spain to face human rights charges.
About 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during Pinochet's regime.
Left-wingers and unionists were targeted, but many Chileans feel a debt of
gratitude for the reforms that made their once poor country an emerging
Lavin, a deeply Catholic, Chicago-educated economist, made his name as
mayor of the wealthy Santiago suburb of Las Condes.
Both Lavin's and Lagos's campaign teams have ditched their southern
hemisphere summer holiday plans to concentrate on campaigns to win over
the one million of Chile's 15 million people who voted for no candidate on
Concertacion officials are rushing to crank up a campaign they admit has
been a shambles and sapped by overconfidence. Justice Minister Soledad
Alvear quit Tuesday to join Lagos's election team in what was interpreted as
a bid to woo female voters who tilted towards Lavin in the first round.
Lavin complained Tuesday of a lack of government neutrality in the election:
"I don't like making accusations, but, I feel in the last few days the
government has gone beyond limits."
Helped by the backing of much of Chile's prosperous business community,
Lavin's well-funded campaign has far outstripped the Concertacion in putting
up posters up and down the 3,000-mile (5,000 km) long country.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.