Chile: Isabel Allende Withdraws 2017 Presidential Election Candidacy

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SANTIAGO, Chile – Just a month after Isabel Allende Bussi presented herself as a candidate in next year’s presidential election, the first female leader in the 83-year history of the Socialist Party of Chile (PS) and daughter of famed former leader Salvador Allende has withdrawn from the race.

The 71-year-old Santiago native announced her intention to campaign for the presidency to colleagues at the general council of her party just days before the 43rd anniversary of her father’s death in the Moneda, the Chilean seat of power, in September.

“I have explicitly stated my desire to be the presidential candidate and I pointed out the need for broad citizen participation in determining the leadership of the New Majority,” Allende Bussi said in reference to her future plans and the Chilean center-left’s political alliance.

Allende Bussi’s calls for “broad citizen participation” in determining leadership referred to the wish for a new system that includes primary voting.

Currently, presidential candidates on behalf of alliances are chosen by the high-ranking leaders of political parties, but Allende Bussi and others in the coalition both want to do away with the system and instill a simple primary voting system.

In the vein of internal competition, Allende Bussi has personally called for unity and “one hundred percent loyalty” to the ideals of her party and alliance, and she has urged her colleagues to “avoid friendly fire” within the political coalition as she and the other candidates polled very similarly in the past several weeks.

Indeed, in the interest of avoiding conflict, Allende Bussi has stayed true to her word and has now announced that she will be retiring her short-lived presidential candidacy in favor of Ricardo Lagos of the center-left Party of Democracy (PPD), a former president (2000-2006) and noted political figure.

“A short time ago, I put my name at the disposal of my party and colleagues as a possible presidential candidate on behalf of the Socialist Party of Chile. After a period of deep reflection, I have decided not to continue on this path,” Allende Bussi said in a prepared statement.

Initially, Allende Bussi said that her decision was “not associated with the support of any other candidate,” but soon after, she admitted that she had a meeting with Lagos shortly before making her statement that was not continuing.

Allende Bussi insisted that “the meeting did not in any way influence or produce the decision” she made in stepping aside, she did disclose that Lagos told her he wanted to be the “only candidate” on behalf of both the Socialists and the Party for Democracy. She said she told him that the “PS would need to take its time to reflect” in order to make a plural decision as there are dissenting opinions at the moment.

The next day, however, Allende Bussi announced her intention to step aside. “The best way to find unity within the coalition and to reduce any possible tension is for me to renounce my candidacy, no matter how painful that decision may have been,” she said.

She reaffirmed that as the head of the party, her job is to “be the guarantor that the PS will make the decision that will be as broad as possible” concerning a presidential candidate.

The socialists still have another candidate in José Miguel Insulza, the former Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General (2005-2015) and well-traveled political law professor. Insulza is a highly experienced politician having served as Foreign Minister and Ministry General Secretariat of the Presidency under Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle from 1994 to 2000. He was then the Interior Minister under Ricardo Lagos from 2000 to 2005 before heading the OAS.

Insulza postured for the presidency once before when he announced his intentions for the December 2009 election. Eventually, however, he stepped aside in favor of old ally Frei Ruiz-Tagle who narrowly lost the election to Sebastián Piñera of the center-right National Renewal.

With Allende Bussi stepping aside in favor of Lagos now, however, Insulza is expected to do the same in the coming days as Lagos has more wide-ranging support from his PPD, sectors of the PS and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the three largest parties in the New Majority.

The ascendancy of Allende Bussi, who will continue in her role as the head of the Socialist Party and “guarantee the unity” within, has been several years in the making now, which makes her sudden decision to stop her candidacy more surprising.

In mid-2015, she became the first female leader in the 83-year history of the Socialist Party of Chile as the year before, the youngest of Salvador Allende’s three daughters announced her candidacy for the intraparty elections that would decide the new party head, a position her father also occupied from 1943 to 1944 when it was known as the ‘Secretary General’ of the party.

Some six months later, the 112-member Central Committee of the Socialist Party elected Allende to be the party’s new head by a wide margin.

At the passing of power ceremony, symbols of Allende and Chilean past were clearly present. The ceremony itself was held in the former National Congress of Chile building, which, until 1973, had served in its congressional capacity until it was shuttered and Congress was moved to the coastal city of Valparaíso years later after the return of democracy where it remains today.

Three years prior in 1970, the building hosted the presidential swearing-in ceremony for the democratically-elected Salvador Allende. On September 11, 1973, Allende was faced with a violent coup staged by the Chilean Armed Forces led by Augusto Pinochet (who would then rule with an iron fist until 1990). With the Moneda being bombed from above and about to be invaded on the ground, Allende killed himself rather than surrendering.

Apart from the building, Allende Bussi herself evoked her father not only through food served (empanadas and red wine, cited from a speech made by her father where he spoke of “celebrating the victory of socialism the Chilean way” through those two items) but directly through words.

“My colleagues, you all know that for me, the Socialist Party of Chile has been much more than just a political party. It has been my home and it has been the home of President Allende, my father, and the home of ‘Tencha’ (the nickname given to Hortensia Bussi, her mother), but it has also been my cause,” Allende Bussi said.

“Thank you to everyone, all of the Socialist Party politicians and members in society, for welcoming me and our party into their homes, into their social circles and public events, and thank you dearly for everyone who voted for me and made me the President of the Socialist Party of Chile,” explained the longtime politician.

Allende Bussi has strong ties with outgoing President Michelle Bachelet, the first female leader in Chilean history and Socialist Party colleague, who is serving her second four-year term (2014-2018) after overseeing a highly successful first term from 2006 to 2010.

In March of 2014 when Bachelet was inaugurated for the second time, she received the red, white and blue presidential sash from Allende Bussi in an emotional handover-of-power ceremony, where the Senate President traditionally places the garment on the newly-elected leader on their first day in power.

Weeks before, Allende Bussi was appointed to head the upper house of the Chilean Congress, a position officially titled the Chair of the Senate, by Bachelet and the New Majority. This made Allende Bussi the first woman, and only the third Socialist Party member, in Chilean history to hold this powerful position; one of the two others was her father, who served as Senate Chair from 1966 to 1969.

The powerful moment shared by the two women was made even more poignant given their shared histories. Both Allende Bussi and Bachelet were born to fathers who held important posts; the former’s was President and the latter’s was a prominent General in the Air Force. Both men died as a result of the 1973 coup. Both women joined the Socialist Youth and were forced to flee the country in their young years, finally returning just before the reintroduction of democracy in 1990 and entering politics.

Just after the Moneda was bombed, Isabel fled to Mexico along with her mother and sisters where they were granted political asylum. They stayed there, with the exception of Beatriz (one of the sisters) who moved to Havana and died there in 1977, until 1989 as the Pinochet dictatorship was coming to an end.

After seeing her father’s remains exhumed and given a proper state burial during the rule of Patricio Aylwin (1990-1994), the first democratically-elected leader since Salvador Allende in 1970, Allende Bussi entered politics with the Socialist Party by winning a seat in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of Congress) as a Deputy in 1994 and remaining there until 2010 (with a stint in 2003 and 2004 as President of the Chamber of Deputies).

She took another step forward in Chilean politics when she won a Senate (upper house of Congress) seat in 2010, representing the northern Atacama Region.

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