Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Van Rysselberghe

Summer is always one, long, slow news day. Which is why minor stories often get blown way out of proportion. The US shark attacks of the summer of 2001 are a good example. But this summer, video tape of the former mayor of Concepción, and current intendant of the same region, Jaqueline Van Rysselberghe, appeared in which she admits to having invented stories in order to obtain funds from the government. The government’s mishandling of the case has meant that it has been THE story of the summer.

The Concertación has threatened to present a constitutional challenge to Van Rysselberghe’s position. Up to today, this has seemed a weak strategy, almost a tit-for-tat for occasions when the right did the same to its ministers, most notably, Yasna Provoste. But today the government announced it was standing by Van Rysselberghe, arguing that the lies are only a minor misdemeanor. It is to be assumed that the opposition will now go ahead with the constitutional challenge.

Observers tend to explain the government’s long delay, and now the defense, in terms of Van Rysselberghe’s very strong regional support and the support her party, the UDI, has demanded of the government.

My take is slightly different. Sebastian Piñera’s strategy all along has been to weaken, and eventually destroy the hard right, which is mostly found within the UDI. If he manages to do so, he creates a new centre-right, almost the equivalent of a right-wing version of the Concertación, which would then occupy the middle ground in Chile as the Concertación meanders leftwards, and can therefore stay in power for many years. By defending Van Rysselberghe, he is showing the world, one again, who is in the UDI and charging a very high price from the UDI, the details of which should become apparent in the future.

Most people think the UDI owns the government. As of today, it’s the other way around.

No comments: