Friday, 29 July 2011

Velasco's feelers

Former Finance Minister Andrés Velasco is putting out presidential feelers. In this week's Que Pasa magazine, Velasco indicates he is considering a presidential run. This is interesting in several respects. First, he is close to Michelle Bachelet, so his position raises questions on whether Bachelet is serious about returning to national politics. What is more likely is that she is lukewarm, and if there is another serious Bacheletista candidate, she'll pass.

Second, Velasco is apolitical -- at least he is not affiliated with any political party. Clearly Concertacionista, Velasco can claim, even more so than Bachelet did, to be independent. As public opinion polls consistently show the low levels of public support for political parties, this could be a plus.

Third, Velasco has a good track record. While it's true that many on the left of the Concertación blame him for having been too stingy, most rational observers recognize that his frugality during the good times allowed Chile to implement an important sitmulus when the 2008 crisis hit, providing a cushion for the economy and a boost for President Bachelet. This has contributed to...

Fourth, Velasco has an international reputation. Not only was he hailed by finance minister colleages for his handling of the crisis, since leaving office Velasco has been selective in his public appearances in Chile and abroad. Most recently, the 15-point paper he delivered with Francisco Javier Diaz at the Progressive Governance Summit in Norway was very well received (my own paper with Francisco Diaz can be found here).

Fifth, while he is no spring chicken, Velasco represents a new generation in Chilean politics. At 50, he is a generation younger than most of the well known leadership that still clings to the Concertación (Lagos, Insulza, etc.), and a decade younger than his former boss, Bachelet. He may still be too old to really attact the kids on the street, who like the hippies, don't trust anyone over 25, but for a country where politicians tend to be grey haired, Velasco represents a change.

Velasco is accused by many of being too academic, but I have seen him deliver speeches where he can turn on the political charisma. The real question is whether he has a plan for programmatic and ideological renewal of the Concertación. He won't win on his CV alone.

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