Chile's first female president has started her second term. Expectations are high. Now it's up to her to prove that she can really implement the promised reforms, and a strong majority in Santiago suggests she can.
In Latin America, a head of state has rarely entered office with expectations as high as Michelle Bachelet Jeria: Chile's new president will take over a country with a healthy economy, a functioning democracy and a confident society which is demanding rights and reforms. Internationally, Bachelet will also remain in focus: Latin America's ailing left is looking for a unifying figure. At the same time, countries like the US, Mexico as well as the European Union expect an economically and politically reliable Chile.
Reforms and friction
Bachelet aims to tackle internal challenges with an ambiguous agenda: She has promised 50 steps in the first 100 days. That was more than a campaign promise - it was meant seriously. Michelle Bachelet can afford it. No president since Chile's return to democracy in 1990 has had such a large majority in the Congress. That's a prerequisite for implementing reforms in the educational, tax and constitutional sectors. The latter is needed to finally eliminate the last remains of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Nevertheless, it will not be easy for her: Her alliance, Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), is anything but a stable coalition. It includes a wide range of parties - from communists to Christian democrats. It is already a difficult task to keep this coalition together. The man tapped for vice minister of education has already had to bow out due to pressure from Nueva Mayoria's left wing. It won't be the Bachelet government's only loss due to friction.
Pressure from the street
At the same time, Bachelet has to keep in mind how to handle the pressure from the street. The student movement has already announced that they will protest again if educational reforms are not implemented in a timely and substantial manner. No one in Chile denies the necessity of enabling all Chileans to access free and high-quality education. This is the only way to overcome the huge gap between rich and poor. Since these reforms are so essential for the country, Bachelet should not be driven by ideology or pressure from the street.
Mediating between the alliances
Ideology is also the keyword for Bachelet's foreign policy. Chile is a member of the "Alianza del Pacifico," the successful and flexible alternative to the ideologically rigid Mercosur. During her election campaign, Chile's new president made it clear that she wants to mediate between the two economic alliances. The Pacific alliance gave Mexico huge economic advantages - at the expense of Brazil. Latin America's biggest country could benefit from Bachelet's mediation efforts. It was therefore a good idea to appoint the former Chilean ambassador to Brazil as the new foreign minister - a clear economic and political sign that Bachelet wants to move away from protectionism and that she wants to liberalize the markets.
Additionally, Bachelet has the opportunity to take a strong political stance: She will have to comment on unrest and repression in Venezuela when the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) deals with the issue. The conflict provoked a deep political divide on the continent. It will also show how the socialist Bachelet positions herself with Latin America's left. Surely she is clever enough not to affiliate with the outdated and sometimes foolish rhetoric of Argentina's Kirchner and Venezuela's Maduro. That said, she will want to place her own spin on things.
Nevertheless, the pragmatic Bachelet won't call for a revolution - not at home and not abroad. If she can keep the party alliance together, and if she is able to cleverly moderate between the conflicting societal interests, the chances are good that she'll fulfil high expectations.