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Cablegate: Chilean Congressional Leaders Opine On

VZCZCXYZ0006
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSG #0716 2172046
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 042046Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3559

UNCLAS SANTIAGO 000716

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CI
SUBJECT: CHILEAN CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS OPINE ON
PRESIDENTIAL RACE, BACHELET'S PERFORMANCE, AND LEGISLATIVE
PRIORITIES

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Bachelet administration has failed to
address income inequality, outspoken Senate President Adolfo
Zaldivar told the Ambassador July 30. Zaldivar also hinted
at his own presidential ambitions. In a separate meeting,
Chamber of Deputies Acting President Guillermo Ceroni said
that the lower house will focus on a variety of transparency
measures. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The Ambassador, accompanied by E/Pol Counselor,
Political Officer, and E/Pol Specialist, met with
congressional leaders in Valparaiso on July 30. These
meetings were held in conjunction with discussions with
members of the Senate Energy and Mining Committee, which will
be reported septel.

Colorful Senate President Hints at Presidential Ambitions
--------------------------------------------- ------------

3. (SBU) Senate President Adolfo Zaldivar is an outspoken
figure recently expelled from the Christian Democratic party
because he claimed publicly it is rife with corruption.
Zaldivar criticized the Bachelet administration and hinted at
his own presidential ambitions during a courtesy call with
the Ambassador. Wealth has more quickly concentrated in the
hands of a few under the 18 years of the Concertacion
alliance than under Pinochet's rule, he charged, adding that
Concertacion was pushing people towards "Chavismo." The
senator was pessimistic about the prospects of accomplishing
significant legislative change during Bachelet's remaining
term, but noted that Congress had already tackled "most of
the important laws" including pension reform legislation.
Zaldivar also said he recently formed a political party and
had received applications from 500 potential candidates to
run for municipal positions. (Note: Zaldivar and his
followers recently became the driving force in a small
political party known as the Regional Independent Party,
which they joined after the Christian Democrats expelled
Zaldivar.) When asked about a recent poll showing opposition
politician Sebastian Pinera as winning in a match up with any
other figure, Zaldivar coyly asked, "But why didn't the CEP
(pollsters) ask about me?" He went on to assert that all
five leading presidential contenders were "basically the
same."

Chamber of Deputies to Focus on Transparency
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The Ambassador also met with Deputy Guillermo
Ceroni, Acting President of the Chamber of Deputies. (Note:
Chamber of Deputies President Juan Bustos has been
hospitalized for more than a week with pneumonia. Staffers
described the 72-year-old's condition as grave, and noted
that his immune system has likely been compromised by liver
cancer. End Note.) Ceroni, a member of the center-left
Party for Democracy (PPD), said that the Chamber plans to
take up a series of measures intended to promote
transparency, including new electoral regulations, freedom of
information laws, restrictions on state interventions in
political campaigns, and the establishment of a tax court.
Turning to the 2009 presidential election, Ceroni said it was
impossible to say who would win, but noted that Pinera's lead
may be fleeting as Concertacion has not yet coalesced behind
a single candidate.

Comment
-------

5. (SBU) Senate President Zaldivar lived up to his
reputation as a loose cannon; his remark about his
presidential ambitions underscoring that his personality and
ambitions are just as colorful as the red hair ("colorin")
his group of political supporters ("colorines") is named for.
It seems unlikely that he would actually enter the
presidential race, and even less likely that he would do well
if he did enter. Nonetheless, as a wild card, the
possibility can not be dismissed. Ceroni's analysis of
Pinera's lead makes sense: once Concertacion coalesces
around a candidate, he or she is likely to pick up additional
public support. End Comment.
SIMONS

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